A season that began with such high hopes has gotten off to the worst start possible as a 31-28 loss to Boise State on Saturday night dropped the WSU Cougars to 0-2.
This was a game that fans always knew was going to be a tough one for the Cougs; WSU is Boise State’s lone quality opponent, and the Broncos were always going to be motivated win a game that could potentially help them get into a New Year’s Six bowl.
The Broncos played like it through three quarters, taking a 24-7 lead midway through the third. But as has been their M.O. over the past season-plus, the Cougars refused to give in.
Unfortunately, as has been the Cougars’ M.O. in this particular season, they couldn’t come all the way back.
Reluctant to push the ball downfield virtually all game and with time starting to become a factor, Luke Falk finally took a shot deep. He connected with Tavares Martin Jr., who skillfully shielded the ball from the defender, then rolled over the top of him over the goal line for a TD. It was part of a monster breakout game for the sophomore, who had 12 catches for 158 yards and that touchdown.
This TD is EVERYTHING. Talk about making an entrance @wsucougfb— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 11, 2016
Boise State came right back, though, exposing the Cougar defense — which had better than most expected — with some edge runs to chew up yards. A Jeremy McNichols TD early in the fourth quarter extended the lead back to 17 points.
But, again, the Cougs came back. After driving from their own 25 to the Boise State 14, WSU faced a 4th-and-6. That’s when Falk and running back Jamal Morrow worked some magic:
Jamal Morrow's glorious TD scores @wsucougfb's #12Best moment!#GoCougshttps://t.co/WKxN8qmZKd— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) September 11, 2016
Once again, the Cougs were within a manageable 10 points. The defense did its job, forcing a punt, and WSU was marching once again. However, the drive died at the Boise State 45 when the Cougs failed to convert a 4th-and-1 on what looked like a miscommunication between Falk and Morrow on the running play.
With just over five minutes to go and a 10-point lead, things looked pretty good for the Broncos. But Bryan Harsin’s clock management skills apparently need some sharpening — BSU refused to take time off the clock when it could — and Brett Rypien made another crucial mistake on a night he often looked shaky, as Shalom Luani picked off his second pass of the night, giving WSU possession at the Boise State 33.
WSU wasted no time, as Falk took a shot deep to Marks on the very first play. Largely bottled up in this game, @throwitupto9 came through in a big way, using the oh-so-subtle push off to create a little space and haul in a 33-yard TD. Marks would finish with 75 yards on 10 receptions.
Trailing by just three, the defense simply needed a stop to give the offense a chance to win the game. But, just like last week, it had a difficult time doing so. BSU marched down the field, needing to convert just one third down pass — an easy pitch-and-catch against soft coverage — to move the ball down to the Cougs’ 22-yard-line. But a personal foul backed them up, leading to an eventual third-and-long. Another ill-advised Rypien pass was picked off in the end zone by Charleston White, and the Cougs had the faintest of heartbeats.
The final drive commenced with just 53 seconds left on the clock, and the Cougars holding just one timeout.
WSU picked up 16 yards on the first two plays, each of which went out of bounds. But it was the third play that would really be the Cougs’ undoing. Morrow was tackled inbounds on a short pass, and rather than use the last timeout, WSU tried to run another play. It was unsuccessful, and a lot of precious seconds had come off the clock.
Falk found Marks on the next play, but he was tackled short of the first down marker at the WSU 45, and the Cougs used their final timeout with five seconds to go.
Falk’s ensuing Hail Mary pass never sniffed the end zone and the game was over.
It took a while for the offenses to get going in this one; just about everyone predicted a shootout, but it never really materialized as both defenses turned in better-than-expected performances. The Cougar defense took a big step forward, holding Boise State to just 10 points in the first half and 17 points through the first three quarters.
But the WSU offense initially continued its inconsistencies from week one. The game got off to an awful start when a promising first drive ended with Luke Falk throwing a pick six deep in Boise State territory. The offense would pile up yards, but continually come up short when it came time to score points. A 41-yard drive stalled at the Boise State 39, resulting in a punt; a 55-yard drive ended with a blocked 39-yard field goal.
The Cougars looked to have something going when they scored their first touchdown with 42 seconds to go in the first half — a 10-yard pass from Falk to Morrow — closing the margin to 14-7, but the defense allowed BSU to inexplicably move into field goal position with two deep passes, and the Cougs would trail 17-7 heading into the break.
WSU now finds itself searching for answers. A season that began with so much promise has now landed with a thud. All of this team’s goals are still in front of it — neither of these game count in the Pac-12 standings, after all — but they won’t be within reach if they continue to play in the manner they’ve been playing.