OK, this team is getting a little too predictable.
Last week, I selfishly touted my correct pregame prediction of the Cougars' game against California. The final score was 49-17, which I had accurately predicted on the podcast the Tuesday prior to the game.
This week, I failed. By one point. My prediction was Notre Dame 41, Washington State 14. The final score saw the Irish top the Cougs in San Antonio 40-14.
There's a point here, one that has to do with more than my own gloating. Although, admittedly, the gloating is a lot of fun.
That point is that, for better or worse, we have this Cougar team figured out. We know when they're getting blown out, we know about how much they'll be getting blown out by, and we don't feel the least bit nervous about that projection.
There was a transfer of power in the Pac-10 tonight. Oregon secured the outright conference lead from USC, and has the inside track at the Rose Bowl, or perhaps another BCS game. It's easy to forget as recently as 2002 we were in the same position. Now, instead of having a packed stadium hanging on the emotional ups and downs of every play, we have predictability. A team that is not competitive now and probably won't be competitive until at least next fall. Possibly longer. We start slow, recover slowly, score a touchdown or two along the way and head home trying to find the positives among the multitude of negatives.
The decent Cougar fanbase showing in the 'neutral' Alamodome, and the national broadcast by NBC, still weren't enough to help the Cougars get started off on the right foot. In the first quarter, though, WSU hung tough with the Irish, surrendering only a field goal and touchdown. In fact the PAT on the touchdown was blocked and nearly returned by Chima Nwachukwu for two, making it deep into Notre Dame territory before being caught by a Notre Dame tight end. 9-0 ND after the first.
The second quarter saw momentum swing decidedly in favor of the Irish. Rushing TDs by Golden Tate and Robert Hughes put Notre Dame up 23-0 midway through the period. From there, the Cougars pieced together their best drive of the half, culminating in Jeff Tuel finding Jared Karstetter for an 11-yard touchdown pass. Even that lone bright spot was wiped out, however, on the final play of the half. On a Hail Mary from the fifty yard line, Jimmy Clausen found Golden Tate, who was able to outjump Aire Justin and come down with a spectacular catch, albeit it sharing the ball with the three defenders trying to pry it away. Still, tie goes to the receiver, and Notre Dame went to the intermission up 30-7.
Fewer fireworks were seen in the second half, with an Irish field goal being the only score in the third. Jimmy Clausen appeared to re-aggravate his turf toe, and replacement Dayne Crist struggled before hitting John Goodman (no, not that one) for a 64 yard TD. Crist would suffer a leg injury later in the game getting tangled up with Toby Turpin, but the outcome was decided and Clausen would sit out the remainder of the contest as a precaution. Tuel, who was picked off twice on the evening, did find Karstetter one more time to bring the Cougs to the final score.
Player of the Game: Karstetter. Our #1 receiver only caught two balls, but made the most of them with two touchdowns. He only had 19 receving yards, but that wasn't abnormal for an anemic WSU offense whose longest play from scrimmage was a 20-yard run by Dwight Tardy.
Unsung Hero: Dwight Tardy. Speaking of which, maybe he's not done yet. Tardy notched 72 yards on 8 carries, a 9 yard average making him by far the most consistent Cougar on offense this evening. He also averaged an impressive 25.3 yards on his three kick returns. Perhaps he doesn't have to be just a trick-play quarterback going forward.
It was over when... Golden Tate caught the Hail Mary at the end of the first half. I know it was a spectacular catch, but the Cougar defensive backfield still needs to learn to swat the ball down. Going for the interception makes a team a lot more susceptible to giving up the touchdown. Oh, and any sort of pressure whatsoever on Jimmy Clausen on that play would've been nice.
Stat of the Game: The Cougars were 2 for 11 on third down. Hard to keep the defense rested and off the field when the offense keeps getting forced to the sideline. That stat led almost directly to a 2:1 time of possession advantage for the Irish, with ND controlling the ball for 40:54 compared to Wazzu's 19:06.