After laying an egg in the desert last weekend, Washington State rebounded today against the Cal Bears, at least on the scoreboard. It wasn't enough, however, as the Cougs let opportunity after opportunity slip through their grasp. Good field position was squandered, turnovers weren't cashed-in and the execution was completely lacking on one side of the ball.
"We're struggling, trying to capitalize on opportunities when we get them. That happened today for our offense." head coach Paul Wulff said. "That was tough. We had a lot of opportunites crossing the 50 one way or another, whether it be a turnover or just us getting the ball across there."
After holding the Bears scoreless in the first quarter, the Cougs drew first blood early in the second. Washington State ran the ball well on a nine play, 80 yard drive, designing read options for Jeff Tuel to keep the defense honest. The drive ended with a 10 yard score from Logwone Mitz, set up by the threat of Tuel running. After being cautious with Tuel all year, the coaching staff decided to take the leash off and use his legs with only three games to go.
"We just thought we could take advantage of that a little bit." Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said of the playcalling for Tuel. "That's something we felt we needed to do to give us an opportunity to win the football game."
Tuel, however, didn't have his best game. The sophomore completed only 36 percent of his passes for 92 yards, by far the worst outing of his career. His receivers didn't help, dropping countless passes, but Tuel's accuracy and decision making wasn't as sharp as usual.
"He didn't play his best game. I'd have to look at it on film." Sturdy said of Tuel. "He missed a couple things in protection that he typically doesn't miss. That affected a couple plays, caused us to get off the field. He just wasn't as sharp as he's been, I think that's fair to say."
On a day the defense did enough to keep the Cougs in the ballgame, it was the offense that couldn't put a game together. Two interception -- by Nolan Washington and Aire Justin -- gave Tuel and the offense the ball inside California territory. The offense couldn't cash them in, scoring only three points off the turnovers.
Aire Justin also got it done in the return game, taking a Bryan Angerer punt 33 yards to the Cal 27. The offense shot itself in the foot again, leading to a field goal on a drive that netted -6 yards. For a team that needs to play almost perfect to win, these kinds of opportunities must be taken advantage of. They weren't and the Cougs paid in painful fashion.
"It definitely hurts. We really feel like that was our game." Tuel said. "We had em and we just kinda let them go. So it definitely hurts a lot."
After Cal found the end zone in the third quarter to take a 14-13 lead, Washington State found itself in Cal territory again after Tuel found Gino Simone on 4th and 3. A chop block backed the Cougs up 15 yards and a sack led to a 4th and 24, forcing the Cougs to punt, squandering another chance to seize the game.
The defense held strong for most of the day, but a critical mistake on 3rd and 20 all but ended the game. Jeremy Ross caught a quick pass from Cal quarterback Brock Mansion, but C.J. Mizell and Brandon Rankin had him hemmed in for a short gain. Instead of going for the tackle, Mizell and Rankin held him up, attempting to go for the strip. The result was a pile that moved 10 yards and gave the Bears a first down. Five plays later, Cal found the end zone, taking a seven point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
"We were trying to just keep him up so we could get the ball out. We were just trying to snatch the ball." Mizell said. "I think it was more of us pushing him, trying to get the ball. We should've just took him down and been smarter about it."
Mizell led the team with 12 tackles, two for a loss, and a sack. Deone Bucannon had another steady game at safety, recording 19 tackles. The defensive line was all but absent statistically, recording just seven tackles combined.
The Cougs will try to regroup and figure out what went wrong before heading to Crovallis to take on the Oregon State Beavers next Saturday. The Beavers were upset at the Rose Bowl by the UCLA Bruins today on a last second field goal.
Gino Simone left the game after a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit in the second half. He hung on, but said he remembered nothing about the hit after the game. It wasn't flagged. If targeting the head, hitting a defenseless receiver and helmet-to-helmet hits are going to be a point of emphasis, the officials should at least call them right. How such a blatant blow to the head goes unpunished is beyond me.
Brandon Rankin didn't start and didn't see his first action until midway through the second quarter. He was used sparingly and recorded only one tackle. In his place, Anthony Laurenzi took over at defensive tackle, recording three tackles.
WSU came out of the game even more banged-up than before. Marcus Richmond injured his hamstring, Arthur Burns injured his quad and Simone had the aforementioned concussion. Zack Williams also left the game late in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a knee injury. The Cougs finished the game with three scholarship receivers and two scholarship running backs.
Reid Forrest uncorked an 84 yard punt in the fourth quarter, good for second-best in WSU history. Forrest averaged 48.5 yards per punt, out-kicking Bryan Angerer by about a yard. Angerer, by the way, is an impressive punter.
Anthony Laurenzi blocked an extra point.
WSU was penalized eight times for 60 yards, many of which came at the most inopportune times, stalling the offense and killing drives.
I'll be back with more quotes and analysis tomorrow. For now, I'm done thinking about the game. It was too frustrating to watch the Cougs die a slow and painful death over the three hours it took for the game to play out.