WSU headed to San Diego looking to validate a hot start in which the Cougars blasted a couple of overmatched teams. Instead, they came back with a 42-24 loss to the Aztecs that resembled far too many games from last season.
The Cougars led 24-14 with just a few minutes gone in the third quarter after Marshall Lobbestael connected with Marquess Wilson on a 78-yard screen pass that was 5 percent throw, 95 percent run. WSU appeared to have SDSU stopped on the next series, with momentum squarely in hand, but a questionable roughing the punter call -- one of many questionable calls today -- extended the drive.
SDSU would finish the drive with a touchdown, and what looked like an opportunity for the Cougars to take control of the game slipped away. Little did we know WSU wouldn't score another point and SDSU would roll all the way to the finish line.
There are a lot of people hung up on that roughing penalty, pointing to it as the turning point in the game. It certainly was the point at which everything sort of seemed to go south. But WSU was dominated in every meaningful metric in the second half, and if you take that long touchdown out of the equation, it looks even worse.
It's just too much to say that one call with 25 minutes to go in the game was the difference in an 18-point game. There will be plenty of time to dissect just what went wrong, but off the top of my head, poor tackling, inability to get off the field on third down and Tyree Toomer playing the worst game of his (or maybe anyone else's) career all rank higher on the list of places to put the blame.
You can probably add Lobbestael to that list, too, despite his 368 yards passing and three TDs. He was directly responsible for four turnovers, and when you take out the two completions for 158 yards to Wilson, you're left with a subpar 18-of-40 for 210 yards. If you were among those wondering if Jeff Tuel would be given the job upon his clean bill of health, hopefully you have now put that silly question to rest. Beyond Lobbestael's turnovers, he made a number of poor throws, showing a distinct lack of arm strength. Funny how that makes a difference when the windows are a lot smaller.
Still, keep your heads up. If you believed this team was much improved before this game, I don't think there's any reason to believe otherwise. You'll hear me say it a lot, but improvement is never linear in sports. Seasons are filled with fits and starts, and you hope that the steps forward are bigger than the steps back. Many of you will remember how I basically quit football after the Arizona State loss last year ... one week before the Oregon State win.
And if you're feeling like a jilted lover at this point, may I submit to you that it might have more to do with your inflated expectations than the team itself?
There were problems today. But the vast majority of them appear correctable to me. More than anything, this struck me as a case of a veteran team remaining cool under pressure and a young team wilting under it. To that end, I'd argue that the most concerning thing was a team that looked like it didn't fight back hard enough when things started to spiral out of control.
Perhaps they'd started to believe their own myth a little bit. And perhaps this loss will provide just the motivational tool Paul Wulff needs for the next two weeks as the Cougars prepare for a Colorado team that is no better than San Diego State.
I know it's disappointing, but keep perspective. Of course we all were hoping this was the beginning of some kind of miracle run, but those just don't happen in college football -- not to teams that were as bad as WSU was as recently as last year. This team will continue to grow. Things are still moving in the right direction, and there's a chance the next two teams are not as good as SDSU -- I don't think it's a stretch to say that their offenses definitely aren't.
Remember the last two weeks, and remember the first half of this game. That's more indicative of where this team is headed.