The Washington State Cougars fell, 31-24, to the Auburn Tigers on Saturday night. WSU held leads at many points during the first half, but couldn't get over the hump in the second despite holding Auburn to just two second-half field goals. The Cougs did outgain the Tigers, 464 to 396, but an Auburn kickoff return for a touchdown and three WSU turnovers allowed the home to escape with a win.
The Washington State side
WSU thought it was the better team
After the game, Washington State's players reiterated one point--they outplayed Auburn, but mistakes prevented the win.
"We moved the ball on the on them all night. The only times we got stopped was when we stopped ourselves with mental mistakes," quarterback Connor Halliday lamented after the game. He was no doubt referring to some of his own mistakes--including three interceptions.
New Cougar running back Jeremiah Laufasa gave the Cougs a goal-line presence, powering his way for two touchdowns. He felt WSU let one slip away on Saturday:
"We are definitely a better team than last year. We played a good team that was improved from last year but with any team you take away, the turnovers, the mental mistakes, and we could have easily win this game."
Linebacker Daryl Monroe finished with six tackles and expressed much of the same, saying he "felt like that's one we let get away."
Gabe Marks, who led the Cougs with nine catches for 81 yards, was more blunt. He is obviously not taking any moral victories away from the loss:
"We lost the game. We’ve shown improvement, but we still lost the game. We should’ve won that game, they weren’t better than us. We are a much different team than we were last year, but at the same time we should’ve won that game. We’re not going to go back home and just be happy because we lost by a touchdown. We’re going to go home pissed off because we lost that game. We should’ve won. We had a lot of opportunities we let up a lot of big plays and didn’t capitalize when the defense got soft. We’re all disappointed."
Halliday saw a hole
Of Halliday's three interceptions, none was more critical than the final pick. WSU had first down at the Auburn 8-yard-line and was close to tying the game late in the 4th quarter. Halliday threw right to Rickey Galvin on an out-and-up, but the pass was nabbed by Auburn's Robenson Therezie.
From a fan's perspective, it looked like Halliday had nowhere to go with the ball. He didn't think so, and thought the mistake was more about his touch on the ball:
"I just underthrew it. I mean they were in cover 2, so there was a little hole right there."
To his credit, Halliday did take responsibility for his mistakes, adding "It’s frustrating because it’s on my shoulders turning the ball over."
WSU head coach Mike Leach said the turnovers were the result of "trying to make too much happen."
A *gasp* running game?
One of the most surprising developments from WSU's loss to Auburn was its ability to move the ball on the ground. The two-headed attack of Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason combined for 104 yards on just 13 carries.
Runs in the Air Raid typically aren't called, and are a result of quarterback changes at the line of scrimmage. Leach gave credit where credit was due in that regard:
"We have improved as a by-product of that. I think (Halliday) did a really good job of checking the line of scrimmage."
Of course, the call means nothing if the offensive linemen can't win the battle up from, and Laufusa praised that group for giving the backs room to maneuver:
"All the running backs were just talking about how we felt the offensive line was much improved and opened up huge holes for us, and we were able to take advantage of it a little bit and gash the defense."
The Auburn side
More balanced individuals may always want to view a compilation of Auburn's favorite plays from the game. Coincidentally, they are also WSU's least-favorite plays. Those can be found at al.com.
Malzahn happy with his defense
Giving up 464 yards at home to a team that struggled on offense a year ago may not seem praiseworthy--but Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was still happy with the way his defense played. He credited them with the turnovers (which conveniently looks beyond the role WSU played in giving the ball away).
Maybe Malzahn isn't off in his praise. Therezie believes his fourth-quarter interception was a product of preparation:
"We worked this in practice," Therezie said. "We knew they were trying to take shots in the end zone. That’s all they are about. We communicate because they like checking out when they read our two safeties. I had a great communication with my safety, Jermaine Whitehead. That’s what put me in a good spot to make that interception."