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WSU secures bowl eligibility with 28-18 win over Arizona State

The Cougs raced out to a big lead before taking their foot off the gas.

Jack Ellis/CougCenter

The Washington State Cougars secured bowl eligibility with a 28-18 win over the Arizona State Sun Devils on Saturday, improving their record to 6-4 overall and 3-4 in the Pac-12.

The final score might seem to indicate a competitive contest, but WSU jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first half and then more or less cruised the rest of the way — for better or for worse.

After trading punts on their opening possessions, the Cougs took advantage of some great field position to drive down to the ASU 2-yard line, where they faced 4th-and-goal. Nakia Watson took a direct snap and punched it in for the first of his three TDs:

After another ASU three-and-out, the Cougs once again struck: Powered by a 20-yard run by Watson that he followed with a 35-yard catch and run on the very next play, Cam Ward eventually found Leighton Smithson for the short TD on yet another nifty play design by offensive coordinator Eric Morris:

Things stalled out a little from there, as the Cougs blew a chance to extend the lead with a third consecutive TD when their pass on 4th and 1 from the 2 was broken up. After a pair of punts, the defense came up with yet another huge play that would give the offense tremendous field position again — an interception and return by Chau Smith-Wade that would put the ball on ASU’s 4-yard-line.

Two plays later, Watson was in the end zone again to make it 21-0 after the 2-point conversion.

The Cougs would make it 28-0 just before halftime with a fantastic 13-play, 75-yard drive that started with just over three minutes left in the half and ended with 3 seconds remaining when Watson again punched it in to get his hat trick:

The second half was ... well, it was a half. Playing with a big lead in frigid temps and against an opponent that was struggling mightily, the sense of urgency dissipated. Not much went down in the third quarter until ASU finally found the end zone with under a minute left in the period. Facing 4th-and-5, backup quarterback Emory Jones found Jaylin Conyers on a simple mesh and then the Cougars’ incredibly poor tackling did the rest as the big tight end rumbled into the end zone.

The fourth quarter was more of the same. The Cougars’ offense sputtered, and Arizona State started to find some hope. The Sun Devils would put two more touchdowns on the board, but they failed to convert the two pointer each time, and neither of their onside kicks even made it 10 yards. Even though it sort of felt like the game was maybe kinda sorta slipping away, it was never really in doubt.

Three Quick Thoughts

Dominating defense: As it was last week against Stanford, the defense was the story of the day. ASU struggled to move the ball all afternoon, finding it particularly difficult to gain yards through the air. Trenton Bourguet — who had totaled nearly 800 yards passing the last two weeks — was off kilter all game, something that surely was not helped by this big hit early on by Brennan Jackson:

The Cougs would give up just 61 yards on 2.2 yards per play in the first half, and despite the fact that the second half was kind of a mess (272 yards given up, yikes), that first half performance was more than enough to get the job done in the end.

Running the dang ball (again): It wasn’t quite the performance that carried the day against Stanford, but WSU piled up 164 non-sack rushing yards at a 5.1 yards per carry clip, making up nearly half of the Cougs’ offensive yards. Watson went over 100 yards for the second consecutive week following his return from injury, carrying the ball 20 times for 116 yards. Jaylen Jenkins returned from injury and chipped in 43 yards on seven carries.

Flat finish: The final score is all that really matters, and the game was basically over at halftime. I don’t particularly think there’s much to be read into the poor play after the break. But Jake Dickert certainly prides himself on having a team that finishes, and the Cougars didn’t finish at all in the second half. The offense put up a paltry 65 yards after the break and missed numerous opportunities to either extend the lead or make sure the Sun Devils couldn’t add any more points of their own. And for as good as the defense was in the first half, the tackling decided to take the rest of the afternoon off. Like the offense, there were lots of chances to just make one more play to keep ASU from scoring any more points, and the Cougs just couldn’t make the play. I’m sure it will be a coaching point this week.


Statistically Speaking