HICKS GIVES CHASE TO PRINCE
IN A SEASON where horrible starts have become omnipresent, this one against UCLA might have been the worst. Three possessions. Three interceptions. If there was any solace for head coach Paul Wulff it might be this: any lingering debate among fans on the merits of burning Jeff Tuel's would-be redshirt was definitively stamped out after the first five passes on Saturday.
When it all ended, three-plus hours later, the scoreboard at Martin Stadium read 43-7. And it wasn't even that close.
The first UCLA TD typified the day for the Cougs. The Bruin score was set up when Marshall Lobbestael chose to audible out of a running play for a pass on third-and-one. And it was a short "one".
"You don't check out of a third down and 4 inches," WSU color commentator Jim Walden said during the radio broadcast at halftime. "It's been all down hill since then. All we've done is have to overcome player mistakes."
How bad was it? WSU's play on Saturday was so abysmal that Walden declined to name a player of the game.
"I'm going to pass," he said. "I don't believe in giving them if you don't have one."
WSU had opened the game with a nice running play foir. The second play, also a run, gave WSU the short third-and-one. The play call on third down was another run, but Lobbestael checked out of it and then compounded the error by throwing a pass he never should have thrown.
Three possessions, three interceptions. The first two came within 90 seconds of the game's start.
The result of Lobbestael's off-target throws -- he started in place of the injured true freshman Tuel, who did not suit up -- was a short field welcome mat for UCLA.
Bruin redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince needed just one play to find Taylor Embree for a 27-yard touchdown pass that launched the rout.
The Cougars (1-9 overall, 0-7 conference) were able to force a punt on the Bruins' next series, but were not able to do it again after Lobbestael's third interception. UCLA (5-5, 2-5) took over at the WSU 32-yard line and scored seven plays later on a 2-yard run by Chane Moline.
"I thought we were able to do some good things with our defense early, but we were put in so many tough positions," WSU coach Paul Wulff said during a postgame radio interview. "It's difficult to overcome."
PRINCE WAS ABLE to get his offense moving during the second quarter, but he did it without the benefit of a short field. On third-and-6, Prince took the snap and ran 68 yards for a touchdown that put the Bruins up 21-0 with 14:11 minutes left in the half. UCLA converted 6 of 13 third downs.
"We got washed to one side of the field and then we came out and missed a couple of tackles," Wulff said.
Trailing 23-0 after junior Reid Forrest botched a snap on a punt that resulted in a safety, WSU's coaching staff changed quarterbacks. Senior Kevin Lopina, who started the first two games of the season but had not played since then, entered the game. Lobbestael completed just 2 of 6 passes for 6 yards.
"Marshall is nowhere near the player he can be," Wulff said. "He pressed and made a couple of mistakes. His confidence isn't really high right now."
The Cougars only had two first downs in the first half and 14 passing yards. Lopina had a 42-yard scramble, but his fumble at the end of the run was recovered by UCLA's Reggie Carter. It was their fourth turnover of the first half.
Prince, who completed 27 of 40 for 315 yards and a touchdown, drove down to the WSU 15 and Kai Forbath was able to add a 37-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in the half to extend the Bruins' lead to 26-0. Much of the yardage on the final drive came through the short passing game.
Wulff said the best way to stop that is through an effective blitz. But he said the team's "personnel doesn't allow us to do that."
WSU WAS FORCED into a three-man defensive front for most of the game because it was without junior defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm who was sidelined with a back injury.
"We're just running out of guys who can play on the defensive line," Wulff said. "It just puts us in a much tougher situation."
The first-half production was more than enough for UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel to improve his record to 7-0 against the Cougars, which also includes stints at Colorado and Washington.
Forbath extended the Bruins' advantage to 29-0 in the third quarter with a 31-yard field goal. It was the only period where they were outscored by WSU. Late in the period, Lopina hit junior Jeffrey Solomon for a 46-yard touchdown. Lopina finished 7 of 14 for 102 yards and a touchdown.
UCLA added a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns on 7- and 16-yard runs by Moline. Despite Moline's three touchdowns, he only had 25 rushing yards. But he finished with 101 yards on seven receptions.
MOLINE WAS THE only non-quarterback for the Bruins to finish with more than 100 yards. But UCLA still produced 557 yards of total offense compared with the Cougars' 180.
The Cougars play their final home game of the season Saturday against Oregon State and close out their season the following week at Washington (3-7, 2-5). The Beavers (7-3, 5-2) beat the Huskies 48-21 in their home finale today.
Wulff said he might not know until Tuesday when Tuel, who suffered a subluxed right kneecap last week at Arizona, can play against OSU. Regardless of whom is at quarterback, Walden said it is time to think about preparing for 2010.
"I don't see us going on the road and beating (UW quarterback Jake) Locker," he said. "I would work as hard as I can the next two weeks on my young kids."