Here are three instant impressions from the Cougars’ 24-21 loss to Central Michigan.
Nice comeback, but …
First, the good:
The Cougars and walk-on quarterback Victor Gabalis deserve great credit for making this quite a game when it seemed all was lost.
They were down 21-0 in the second half, and with quarterback Jayden de Laura unable to play in the second half because of an injury, the Cougars brought in Gabalis, who started the season as the fourth-string quarterback.
It certainly looked like the game was over, but Gabalis made some big plays, the WSU defense did its part and all of a sudden the score was 21-14.
Then, when the Cougars looked done again with the score 24-14, Gabalis led a long touchdown drive. That the Cougars made the Chippewas sweat was an accomplishment.
Washington State had so much positive momentum at the end of the regular season, with the historic 27-point win over Washington (largest margin of victory for WSU in the series) and the hiring of Jake Dickert as head coach after he did such a good job leading the team after the firing of Nick Rolovich.
Then that first half?
Central Michigan was by far the better team in the first half, and it looked like the more motivated team.
The Cougars didn’t have some of their top players to begin the game — then lost de Laura and receiver Calvin Jackson Jr. in the second half — but they were still favored by seven points.
WSU fans will lament the first half and cheer the second half.
The Cougars won’t be happy ending the season with a loss, but the comeback will dull the pain.
Special teams were far from special
The Cougars special teams had been pretty good most of the season, but they were horrible in the first half and that had a lot to do with the Cougars falling behind 21-0 to a team they were favored to beat by a touchdown.
The lowlights: a fumbled kickoff return by Travell Harris, a botched snap on a field-goal attempt and then allowing a long punt return that set up Central Michigan’s final touchdown of the first half.
As bad as the offense was in the first half (gaining 51 yards), the Cougars could not afford special-teams failures.
The absence of the offensive tackles was a huge blow
The Cougars undoubtedly could have used running backs Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh, but the absence of right tackle Abe Lucas, who opted out, and left tackle Liam Ryan, who was injured, hurt even more.
Those two linemen had each started 42 games and have done a great job of protecting de Laura and helping open holes for the running backs.
The patchwork line Friday struggled mightly to protect de Laura, who rarely had time to set up to throw and was hit repeatedly. The running game suffered as well.
When de Laura was unable to play in the second half because of an undisclosed injury, the Cougars’ fate seemed sealed.
Central Michigan was also without its starting offensive tackles. but the Chippewas were able to overcome that better than Washington State was.