Improvement for programs rarely is linear, and the WSU Cougars put that on full display tonight as a meltdown of epic proportions turned a 24-17 third quarter lead into a 52-24 beatdown at the hands of Oregon State.
The Cougars dropped to 4-3 and 2-2 in the Pac-12, while the Beavers improved to 5-1 and 3-0.
Down by a touchdown at halftime, WSU had a great start to the third quarter. The defense earned a three-and-out and seven plays later, Jeremiah Laufasa put the ball in the end zone from two yards out. After another stop from the defense, WSU marched 80 yards in 10 plays as Connor Halliday found Vince Mayle on a four-yard fade for the go-ahead score.
But Oregon State came right back. The WSU pass rush started to lose steam, and Sean Mannion found his backup tight end, Caleb Smith, for a pair of completions on consecutive throws that totaled 52 yards on the way to tying the game.
And that's when things got weird.
WSU went three and out, but the (fake?) punt was botched when the snap hit an unsuspecting Jared Byers in the chest in the backfield, leaving the Beavers with a short field. They cashed in two plays later to go ahead by a touchdown.
And then things just spiraled out of control.
On WSU's very next offensive play, Halliday threw behind Mayle for an interception at the WSU 45 yard line. Three plays later, OSU was in the end zone. On the third offensive play after that, Halliday threw his second interception after forcing the ball into coverage. Five plays after that, OSU was in the end zone again. And on the very next offensive play, Halliday threw his third interception -- this one his trademark scramble to the right and heave it down field with no chance of completion -- which OSU turned into yet another touchdown seven plays later.
In the span of five minutes of game action, WSU went from being tied at 24 to losing 52-24. The wheels fell off so fast, and the youthful Cougs showed absolutely no ability to get it back on track.
Mannion is the third consecutive quarterback to have his way with WSU, throwing for 493 yards and four touchdowns on a ridiculous 9.7 yards per attempt. It was in stark contrast to Halliday, who was putting together a nice game before once again lost his composure to finish 26-of-49 for 248 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Still needing two wins to return to a bowl for the first time since 2003, the road doesn't get any easier, as the Cougars travel to Oregon to take on the second-ranked Ducks.