The latest iteration of a Washington State defeat was against Arizona on a crisp late Saturday afternoon on Dad's Weekend, and it ended 24-7 in favor of the Wildcats. That constitutes progress for the Cougars, who against Arizona last year in Tucson trailed 24-0 after one quarter and lost 48-7.
PULLMAN — Paul Wulff was standing at an interview podium, shaking his head. He’s done a lot of that the past couple of years, dissecting 13 consecutive football losses against Pac-10 teams.
At least the nature of the autopsies has changed. Lately, he and his Washington State team can lament plays here and there that cost them a shot at a breakthrough victory. Now they’re not searching for a sea change in attitude or size or commitment, they’re beating themselves up over the inability to hold onto a pass or pick up a blitz.
The latest iteration of a Washington State defeat was against Arizona on a crisp late Saturday afternoon on Dad’s Weekend, and it ended 24-7 in favor of the Wildcats. That constitutes progress for the Cougars, who against Arizona last year in Tucson trailed 24-0 after one quarter and lost 48-7.
Still, if Wulff speaks the truth, the Cougars reacted as they should after their sixth defeat in seven games in 2010. Asked about the mood of the team, he said, “Like it should be — disappointed. That’s a step in itself.”
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The Cougars knocked Arizona quarterback Nick Foles out of the game, and it’s an injury that could have major implications in the Pac-10 — not only for Arizona’s title chances but for Washington, which faces the Wildcats next week in Tucson, very likely seeing Matt Scott, more the runner, at quarterback.
Foles was caved in by WSU defensive end Travis Long in the second quarter, leaving with Arizona ahead 7-0. Scott played capably, completing 14 of 20 passes, while the ‘Cats relied heavily on the run, with 47 plays on the ground to 27 passes.
Foles has either a sprain or dislocated kneecap, and coach Mike Stoops referred to a probable two- to three-week absence.
That’s the story line in Tucson. The one here is that no matter how much good was done by a bevy of young players, WSU did just enough badly to foil any chance of a stunner against the 17th-ranked Wildcats.
The Cougars had six sacks, two by the sophomore Long, their most in 19 games. True freshman safety Deone Bucannon threw his body around all night at Wildcats running backs, making 14 solo tackles, fifth-most in school history. Redshirt freshman Sekope Kaufusi had eight tackles.
Jeff Tuel, the sophomore quarterback, had his seventh consecutive 200-yard passing game, and true freshman Marquess Wilson had another 100-yard receiving game.
WSU invaded Arizona territory eight times, but simply lacked enough playmakers to stress the Wildcats. Tuel missed Daniel Blackledge on the sideline for what would have been perhaps a 30-yard gain, and when Tuel fired a strike for Blackledge in the end zone in the third quarter, Blackledge somehow whiffed on it.
There was a first-half screen, fortuitously called against an Arizona blitz and perfectly set up, but Logwone Mitz couldn’t make the one troublesome Wildcat miss.
And when events boiled to a 21-7 Arizona lead as the fourth quarter began, the Cougars thought they could capitalize on the momentum of their only touchdown. James Montgomery tried a lateral pass intended for Tuel, except the robust Arizona end, Brooks Reed, was in the way and nearly intercepted it. No matter, UA recovered.
“We blocked it wrong,” said Tuel. “James turned around and wasn’t expecting that guy to be there, because we blocked it right all week (in practice).”
So it goes for the Cougars.
“So many opportunities to score points in that second half… ” Wulff sighed.
The Cougars got more beat up, losing left tackle David Gonzales for the season, freshman corner Damante Horton (knee) for an extended period, even punter Reid Forrest with a shoulder problem. All in all, the world must be flying by at warp speed for somebody like Bucannon, four months out of high school.
“Every day is something different,” he said, “something you don’t expect.”
But, he said, “I’m definitely willing to sacrifice my body for the team. That’s what I signed up for.”
It’s the losing — no matter how it materializes — that wasn’t in the fine print.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org