In a game of momentum swings, Washington State could never seize the momentum and capitalize on the big plays.
The Cougs started the game off with an onside kick, successfully easily recovering the ball with no Wildcat players within 10 yards of the ball. Head coach Paul Wulff said they'd seen some things on film and decided earlier in the week that they'd go for it.
"We felt we could get it. Their front line guy was always soft and itching to get back into blocking." he said, "We just thought we had it. He went and bailed and we designed a block and it just bounced right to us."
But the Washington State offense failed to take advantage of the early momentum. After converting a fourth and one on a rollout pass, a Jeff Tuel pass deflected off the hands of Daniel Blackledge and into the hands of an Arizona defender. It was the first of many drops on the day for the Cougs, many that crippled the offense.
Arizona quarterback Nick Foles went down in the first half after Travis Long inadvertantly rolled up on him, perhaps giving WSU an edge that wasn't there to start the day. Foles dislocated his right knee cap and was in street clothes and on crutches after halftime.
"I was spinning and I got tripped up and kinda ran into his knee." Long said, "I was just on my back and just landed right on his leg, I guess."
With backup quarterback Matt Scott in, the defense was forced to adjust to a more mobile, but less accurate quarterback. The Cougs were able to get pressure on Scott, regularly getting in his face or dropping him for a loss. Without the ability to stretch the field, the Arizona running backs took over, rushing for 142 yards and three scores.
The sputtering WSU offense was a theme of the first half. The Cougs rushed 14 times for one net yard, totaling 56 yards of total offense by halftime. The Arizona defensive line created pressure by themselves, sacking Tuel twice in the first half and pressuring him countless other times.
The loss of David Gonzales in the first half -- to a season-ending forearm fracture -- forced the Cougs to shuffle the offensive line, moving Elliot Bosch to tackle for a few plays before sliding Wade Jacobsen to tackle in the second half. Jacobsen took time to adjust to the position, conceding back-to-back holding penalties in the second half.
"The last thing I wanna do -- I wasn't gonna let them hit Jeff. If that means taking a holding call on me, so be it." Jacobsen said, I'm not gonna let them hit my quarterback. I didn't think it was a holding call, but that's not my call."
After Arizona forced a three-and-out to start the second half, Washington State had another miscue, this time on special teams. A ground-ball snap was muffed by Reid Forrest, giving Arizona great field position. Forrest also injured his shoulder on the play.
Arizona punched it in, doing what the Cougs couldn't all day; capitalize on a momentum shift.
The Cougar offense finally got into gear on the next possession, stringing together a 14-play drive that chewed the clock. The only thing missing was points, after Nico Grasu missed a 41-yard field goal. The back-breaker during the drive was a sure touchdown pass dropped by Blackledge at the goal line.
After forcing a punt, the offense finally converted, driving 63 yards in 9 plays. Marquess Wilson made up for an earlier drop during the drive hauling in a 23-yard Tuel pass for a touchdown.
The Cougar defense stepped up again on the next possession. With Arizona driving the field, Sekope Kaufusi blew up a fourth and one play, dropping Nick Grigsby for a loss and forcing a turnover on downs.
Washington State got tricky on the first play following the turnover, attempting a double pass. The design called for James Montgomery to throw the ball back to Tuel, who would then throw downfield to Gino Simone. Simone was wide-open on the play, but it didn't matter. A missed block allowed an Brooks Reed to break up the lateral and fall on the fumble.
"We thought we had momentum. We just scored. We thought we had that play." Wulff said, "The route was open. James turned around and didn't see the defensive end that far up-field and it didn't work. We thought if we had a quick score, we could be right in it."
"I think it was rather open. We made a mistake on the back side of it." offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said, "We turned back on the defensive end and allowed him to come up field because it was a run away. All we had to do was step down and the defensive end would've came flat. It's just an execution thing. David's out of the game, we had a new guy in there."
The play, Sturdy said, was the same play Gino Simone dropped in the first half of the Apple Cup last year.
Any chance Washington State had of drawing closer ended after another big momentum shift in the fourth quarter. After Marquess Wilson hauled in a deep pass from Jeff Tuel and raced 83 yards, Tuel was picked off in the end zone on a fade route to Wilson. The ball was thrown a bit inside and tipped up before the Arizona defensive back made a great grab and tip-toed the end line.
In a game with so many swings, WSU made too many mistakes to win the ballgame. Nearly every time they were on the verge of seizing the momentum, a mistake or turnover gave the game right back to Arizona.
After weeks of watching the offense steadily improve, it was the defense's turn this week. The offense took a step back, but the defense took a big step forward, holding there own against an Arizona offense with plenty of weapons, even without Foles.
The Cougs have the week to regroup before heading to Palo Alto to take on the Stanford Cardinal next Saturday.
The Cougs came out of the game pretty banged up today. In addition to David Gonzales' injury, Damante Horton injured his knee. Wulff said Horton hasn't been ruled out for the season, but it's not looking good. Forrest also banged up his shoulder and did not return in the third quarter.
Another 100-yard receiving game for Wilson, his fourth of the year. Wilson leads the Pac-10 in 100-yard games.
The Cougs carried the ball 34 times for 41 yards. Jeff Tuel led all Cougar rushers with 33 yards, all on scrambles.
Aire Justin took over the punt and kick returning duties, averaging 18.3 yards on kick returns and 4.5 yards on punt returns.
C.J Mizell was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. Wulff wouldn't clarify, but said it was nothing illegal and he just broke team rules. He missed practice on Wednesday and was late to practice on Thursday, so there you have it. Sounds like a case of setting an example and taking a hit short-term to teach Mizell a long-term lesson.
Deone Bucannon led the team in tackles and had 11 by halftime.
Casey Locker picked off his first career pass late in the first half, ending an Arizona drive in Washington State territory.