Despite leading for much of the game, the Washington State Cougars gave up a 17-yard touchdown run by Jayden Daniels with 34 seconds remaining to lose to the No. 18 Arizona State Sun Devils, 38-34, in Tempe, Arizona.
It is the third consecutive loss for the Cougars, who were ranked No. 19 heading into UCLA but have now dropped to 3-3 on the season and 0-3 in Pac-12 play.
It was the same story as it has been during the losing streak. The defense just couldn’t make a stop when it needed to, giving up 532 yards; and, just like the loss to UCLA, the offense came up just a couple of plays short.
Nowhere was this more on display than the final drives for each team.
After a shanked punt by ASU, WSU took over on the Sun Devils’ 36-yard line and the game tied at 31 with 5:27 to go. It was the perfect situation to drive for a short field TD and force the Sun Devils’ freshman QB Daniels to have to go the length of the field just to tie the game.
Instead, the Cougs stalled out thanks largely to a holding penalty from Liam Ryan that put the team in a 3rd-and-14 hole from the ASU 23. Anthony Gordon found Renard Bell for nine yards, but rather than go for it on 4th-and-5 from the ASU 14, Mike Leach elected to kick the short field goal and take a temporary 34-31 lead.
Anyone watching the game knew what was coming. ASU gained 30 yards on its first four plays, setting up 2nd-and-2 at WSU’s 45. But a pair of incomplete passes set up 4th-and-2, and the Cougs had a chance to end it. However, Eno Benjamin steamed ahead for five yards, and at that point, it felt like the Cougs had missed their chance.
Daniels hit Brandon Aiyuk for 15 yards and 8 yards — he had 196 yards and three TDs on the day — to reach the WSU 17 for 2nd-and-2 with 41 seconds to go. WSU took a timeout just before the snap, presumably to get in the best coverage, but it didn’t work. For seemingly one of the few times all night, WSU didn’t have a dedicated defender to keep Daniels from scrambling, and he finally made them pay: He stepped up in the pocket, saw nothing but green grass, and wasn’t touched until he was crossing the goal line.
With 30 seconds left, WSU did have a chance with one last drive, and it looked like they might at least have a chance for a game-winning hail mary, moving the ball to the ASU 43. But Abe Lucas got beaten badly on the final play, Gordon was forced to his left and couldn’t get the ball to the end zone, and the game was over.
Gordon finished with 466 yards and three TDs and no interceptions on 44-of-66 passing, while Easop Winston Jr. led the receivers with 14 receptions for 118 yards and one TD. Daniels finished with 363 yards on 26-of-36 passing.
The most frustrating part is that WSU had multiple chances to take control of the contest.
The game could hardly have started better for WSU, as the Cougars scored on their first two drives. After converting a 4th-and-1 early in the drive — which was aided by a face mask on Max Borghi, who had already picked up the line to gain — Anthony Gordon found Travell Harris wide open in the end zone after a busted coverage by ASU for a 35-yard TD.
On the next drive, WSU drove down to the ASU 16-yard line, picking apart the Sun Devils over the course of 10 plays and 69 yards. But the drive stalled out for a 33-yard field goal attempt, which Blake Mazza nailed to give the Cougs a 10-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the defense was playing well. WSU secured a three-and-out on the first drive and forced another punt on the second drive as new starting nose tackle Dallas Hobbs was doing a great job plugging up the middle.
However, with a chance to go up 17-0, the offense couldn’t truly put their foot on the gas, going three-and-out. The defense looked like it would hold up again when ASU failed to convert a 3rd-and-12 from its own 25, but a sloppy offside by WSU gave the Sun Devils another crack. They converted 3rd-and-7, and then five plays later Brandon Aiyuk turned around new strong safety Skyler Thomas for a 40-yard TD that closed the gap to 10-7.
But the Cougs answered back with a 7-play, 87-yard play of their own that was keyed by a 29-yard completion to Dezmon Patmon and finished off with a 2-yard TD to the same guy:
The defense once again game up strong, keeping ASU out of the end zone for the third time in four drives — really, about as much as anyone could ask for — but the offense couldn’t take advantage of its opportunity to put some real pressure on ASU. Facing 4th-and-3 from their own 38, Mike Leach elected to punt.
Naturally, despite the strong defensive play to that point, ASU was in the end zone two plays later:
With less than two minutes left in the half, WSU had a great chance to answer back. But sometimes the Air Raid taketh away, and three consecutive incompletions gave the ball right back to ASU with plenty of time to score before half. It turned into a field goal, and despite feeling as if they had outplayed the Sun Devils, the Cougars trotted to the locker room tied up at 17.
ASU got the ball right back and went right back to work, looking to re-establish the run, which hadn’t gained much traction in the first half. They marched down the field behind five carries to Eno Benjamin, the last of which was a 32-yard burst for a TD on 4th-and-1. For the first time, ASU had the lead, 24-17.
WSU refused to be shaken, answering back with a 14-play, 91-yard TD drive that was keyed by a 3rd-and-3 conversion early and then a 4th-and-1 conversion in the red zone and capped by a two-yard TD pass from Gordon to Winston. All tied again, 24-24.
The defense came up huge on the next drive, standing up A.J. Carter for a 1-yard loss on 3rd-and-2, and after a punt that put the Cougs inside their own 10, the offense went back to work. Calvin Jackson went for 14 yards, Patmon drew a pass interference, Borghi ripped off a 22-yarder, Patmon added 18 more yards, Travell Harris gained 13, and WSU was all the way down to the ASU two-yard line. A two-yard Borghi run gave the Cougs the lead back at 31-24:
It would be the last touchdown WSU would score — a costly inefficiency.
ASU came right back to tie it when Aiyuk again burned Marcus Strong for a 33-yard TD:
Needing to put the team back in front, the offense couldn’t get the job done, but an incredible punt from Oscar Draguicevich III pinned ASU back at its own 3-yard line. The defense did its job, stopping the Sun Devils and forcing a punt. To make matters even better for the Cougs, the punt was shanked for just 29 yards and the offense took over at the ASU 36 with a golden opportunity to get a go-ahead TD with 5:27 to go.
It didn’t work out as hoped. The Cougs could move only 22 yards in five plays, advancing to the ASU 14 for a 4th-and-5. Leach again elected to kick, and the Mazza field goal gave the Cougs a three-point lead at 34-31, but there was 2:30 to play — plenty of time to win, just as there was in the first half.
The Cougars return home for homecoming against the Colorado Buffaloes next Saturday.