Washington State went 3 of 6 on red zone attempts. All three of those should have resulted in points, Gabe Marks said

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PULLMAN – When it was all over, there were a myriad of different ways to try to explain how and why Washington State was beaten so soundly by UW that the game was all but over at the end of the first quarter, with the Huskies up 28-3.

But WSU senior receiver Gabe Marks only needed two words: “We’re soft,”

“We got down on the 1-yard line three times and couldn’t get a yard. If you can’t get one yard and score a touchdown three times in a row, you don’t deserve to win,” Marks said.

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The Cougars went 3 of 6 in the red zone and 1 for 4 on fourth down conversions. But on one of those three failed red zone trips, Falk threw an interception in the end zone, and twice on fourth-and-1, from the UW 1 yard line, the Huskies vaunted defense stonewalled the Cougars.

“We got down to the 1-yard line three times. That’s 21 points if we get three yards total,” Marks said. “I don’t think we psyched ourselves out, I think we just got outmuscled by the other team.”

The first of WSU’s two failed fourth-and-1 encounters came in the second quarter right after running back Jamal Morrow had a huge 64-yard punt return that gave the Cougars the ball at UW’s 6-yard line, though a false start penalty pushed WSU back to the 11.

Morrow got six yards on first down, Wicks got three on second down, then Wicks slipped on third down to bring up fourth-and-goal at the 2. WSU went to Wicks again, only to have him stopped half a yard shy of the end zone.

Then, in the third quarter, after a promising 81-yard, 17-play drive that consumed 6:16 of clock, the Cougars once again found themselves on first-and-goal from the UW 4. James Williams rushed twice, Falk got sacked once, and on fourth-and-goal from the 1, the Cougars once again fed it to Wicks. The result was the same – turnover on downs.

“On both of those, we should have thrown it,” WSU coach Mike Leach said after the game.

On both occasions, quarterback Luke Falk said he opted for the run call instead of the pass because “I liked the run box, I thought we could punch it in. Unfortunately, we just didn’t.”

Until Friday, the Cougars had amassed 22 rushing touchdowns behind a resurgent ground attack, so there was reason to believe they could have rammed the ball in.

However, “we just didn’t get off the ball and get it in,” Falk said. “We kinda went to the strength of our team in that scenario and unfortunately, didn’t get it done.

“But I’ve had faith in those guys all year and still (have) faith in them. How many rushing touchdowns have we got down there this year?”

Yet it would be simplistic to pin the loss solely on those three critical red zone drives that resulted in the Cougars coming up empty.

Much like it had against Oregon State, when WSU came out flat and allowed the Beavers to go up 21-0 early before rallying back to victory, the Cougars were a shell of themselves in the first quarter of their 45-17 defeat to No. 6 Washington. The Huskies were a significantly better team, and the Cougars’ early miscues proved insurmountable.

“We got behind early. We came close early in the game to doing some good things until we let them off the hook,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “I thought we started pressing and doing too much. I think as coaches, we have to get this out of them on offense, defense and special teams.

“I thought we were too quick to press and made more out of it than it was. We have to have the discipline to do our job, and I don’t think we did.”

The Cougars early lethargy was also apparent on defense.

“We just did not execute that well,” cornerback Marcellus Pippins said. “We started kind of slow, but as the game went on, we did better. It was nothing really they were doing different. We were not moving as fast as we normally do on defense.”

WSU gave up 202 passing yards and three passing touchdowns in the first quarter alone. Thereafter, the Cougars held UW quarterback Jake Browning to 90 passing yards for the rest of the game.

“It was a lot about us not doing our job,” Pippins said. “We have to come back better than we did this game.”

So instead of playing in next week’s Pac-12 championship game, the Cougars’ regular season is done. The eight-game win streak of September and October feels like a distant memory in contrast to the two-game losing streak they’ll take into their bowl game. Sure, both losses at the end came against ranked teams – No. 12 Colorado and No. 6 Washington.

But at the end of a season in which WSU kept its Rose Bowl alive until Thanksgiving Day, the way WSU lost this Apple Cup was bitterly disappointing.

Marks’ final message to his team is this: “Go win the next game. Don’t lose – 9-4 is a lot better than 8-5.”