After starting the season a perfect 4-0 and reaching as high as #13 in the top 25, the Washington State Cougars have dropped their fourth straight game, this time to a former one win Arizona State Sun Devils, 38-27.
Similar to the game against the Arizona Wildcats a few weeks prior, WSU (4-4, 1-4 in Pac-12) got on the board first and then everything began to collapse after that. ASU (2-6, 1-4) had yet to score 30 in a game all season and managed to clip that mark early in the third quarter. A failed 4th and 2 to keep the game alive with two minutes to go has sent WSU further into the seemingly bottomless abyss of rock bottom.
The image of Jake Dickert leading the band in the fight song after an upset win over the Oregon State Beavers in Week 4 feels like a distant memory from another world. The team that just played in Tempe tonight is a completely different team than the one fans were celebrating on the field with after the Wisconsin and OSU game. That team prided themselves on effort and energy. Flying to the football, making sound tackles, creating big plays off of the creativity of Ben Arbuckle. What felt most important at the time was how it felt the team was responding to everything that was happening off of the field. It felt like they had totally bought into the Cougs vs Everybody mentality and were taking it out on everybody in their way. This team, is the complete opposite of that. They can’t tackle, they can’t create big plays and they just look like they don’t even want to be there. A complete lack of heart and hustle.
The effort looked there early. Faced with some adversity on the first drive, WSU converted on a 3rd and 6 to Kyle Williams, tush-pushed through on a 4th and 1 and finally hit pay dirt with a three yard scamper into the end zone by an airborne Cam Ward on 3rd and goal. Despite the early seven points, it was a little worrisome it took WSU 15 plays to find the end zone against a one-win ASU team.
ASU’s opening drive was a similar story with a pair of 3rd down conversions, but the Sun Devils were anchored by the big play WSU lacked. Trenton Bourguet connected with Troy Omeire for 30 yards down to the WSU 25. DeCarlos Brooks tied the game up at 7, four plays later, with a 13-yard rushing touchdown.
Despite a roughing the passer call to start WSU’s second drive, the Cougs could only pick up five yards on a Nakia Watson run before punting it back to ASU. On 3rd and 9, a roughing the passer call against WSU this time helped extend the Sun Devils drive that eventually stalled out at the WSU 32. Dario Longhetto’s 50-yarder just missed to keep the game tied at 7. WSU’s third drive went backwards with a holding call on 2nd down and a sack on 3rd down for Nick Haberer’s second punt of the night. Bourguet quickly put the Sun Devils into the red zone on three passes for a total of 58 yards and capped off with Brooks second TD of the night from a yard out. 14-7 ASU.
The deficit finally awoke the Cougar offense. Lincoln Victor, Josh Meredith and Cooper Mathers all reeled in catches to put the Cougars inside the Sun Devil 10. After losing a yard on 1st and goal, Ward scored his second rushing touchdown of the game, running straight up the middle and through the Sun Devil defense to tie the game.
Just as quickly as WSU had regained some momentum, it disappeared as quickly as Cam Skattebo did on the first play of the Sun Devils ensuing drive, bouncing outside and past the Cougar defense before finally being tripped up after 66 yards. ASU rewarded Skattebo for his efforts three plays later with a two-yard touchdown run.
In desperate need of something before halftime, Kyle Williams reeled in a 38-yard catch and run to kickstart the two-minute drill into ASU territory. Watson found a hole on the next play for a rare 16-yard carry and Williams struck the ASU defense again for a 12-yard catch to put the Cougs inside the 10. Ward capped off the drive with a laser through a tight window for a game-tying touchdown into the hands of Victor.
With only 42 seconds and one timeout, ASU began to march, picking apart the WSU defense with some short passes into Cougar territory. ASU spent their last timeout after picking up a first down to the WSU 44 with just six seconds remaining. Trenton Bourget hit Jalin Conyers quick over the middle for 13 yards with the clock continuing to tick down to just a second or two. Surely, the Sun Devils wouldn’t be able to have enough time to get the clock stopped and get the field goal unit on. After getting up and handing the ball to the official, Conyers fell to the ground with an apparent knee injury that stopped the clock. The officials would also go to a replay review to check and see if the catch was a completion as the ball rolled onto the turf as Conyers went the ground. Upon review, the officials determined that it was a catch and that there would be an additional second added on to the clock. All of this delay worked out perfectly for the Sun Devils, who were able to kick the 51 yarder and take the lead into the half.
Here was the injury in question.
It never feels right to accuse a kid of faking an injury, but man... pic.twitter.com/7nqEu7bSON— Greg Woods (@GregWWoods) October 29, 2023
Conyers would remain in the game.
ASU rolled the momentum into the second half. The Sun Devils got the ball first in the second half and worked the Cougar defense again for a 12-play, 75 yard touchdown drive to take the games first two-possession lead at 31-21. The most points ASU had scored this season before tonight was 28 points.
WSU flailed in their chance to respond, punting after just five plays. Thankfully, WSU’s defense was able to force their first three and out of the game to keep the game from getting out of hand. The Cougar offense had to again grind their way down the field without a play going over 15 yards. Ward connected with Victor on 1st and 10 for eight yards to the ASU 14, but the Cougs could go no further having to settle for a field goal to bring the game back within a possession to end the third frame.
Once again, the Sun Devils gashed the Cougars early in the drive with a big play. Bourguet delivered a perfect deep bomb to Conyers, recovering from his earlier knee injury, for 50 yards down to the WSU 16. Jaden Hicks was flagged for an unnecessary roughness to move the ball to the eight yard line. Brooks scored touchdown number three on the next play and the ASU lead ballooned to 38-24.
A kickoff out-of-bounds set WSU up at the 35 and another long grinding adventure down field began again. Tasked with a 3rd and 6 from the ASU 13, Ward escaped pressure but only had enough space to scramble back to the line of scrimmage. Before stepping out of bounds, ASU’s Alphonso Taylor hit Ward a little too hard, drawing an unnecessary roughness penalty to give WSU a fresh set of downs, sending the ASU coaches on the sideline into a frenzy that delayed the game for a few minutes. Despite the gifted penalty, WSU’s offense sputtered and took a seven yard sack on 3rd and 10. Down 14 with 8:33 to go, Dickert and company elected to just take the points on a Dean Janikowski 34 yard field goal. Trusting the defense, that hadn’t earned much trust on the night, to string together enough stops for WSU’s offense to come through late.
WSU’s defense made the move seem smart by forcing a punt from the Sun Devils, giving Ward and the offense a chance to pull back within a possession. The drive started hot with Josh Kelly hauling in a 28-yard catch. Ward parlayed the catch into four straight completions into the ASU 10. Facing a 4th and goal from the two-yard line with just under two minutes to go, the Cougars elected to try and score the touchdown they needed instead of kicking the field goal to pull within a possession. Ward’s pass towards Williams in the end zone hit the turf, turning the ball over on downs and effectively ending the game.
Something has happened to this WSU football team. A 4-0 team that was on a mission to terrorize all those that left them for dead does not suddenly become a team that loses by 11 to a team whos only win prior to the night was by the skin of their teeth to FCS Southern Utah. It is alarming. These aren’t the type of games you can just flush away and move on from. These are the type of games that bad programs lose. These are the type of losing streaks and losses that tear down programs, not build them.
It is unimaginable that the team that had hopes of winning double-digit games just five weeks ago now faces the reality that their streak of bowl-eligible seasons is in serious jeopardy. How has the team that thrived on playing with more heart and passion than anybody suddenly lost all of that ability? Tonight’s loss is as bad as it gets. No stops. A perfect get right opportunity against an opponent that is inferior in talent just steamrolled you.
The Cougars will again look to stop the bleeding next week, hosting the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday.