The Washington State Cougars suffered what has to be their worst and most improbable loss in program history when they gave up 50 points in the second half on their way to blowing a 32-point lead to the UCLA Bruins and losing, 67-63.
This, despite Anthony Gordon throwing for 570 yards and a program record 9 touchdowns.
Again: Anthony Gordon threw 9 touchdowns ... and lost.
The game started weirdly; the Cougars kicked off favored by 18 points, but they didn’t exactly cruise out of the gate. Their first drive ended just three plays in with a Gordon interception — the kind we’ve seen before, where he just didn’t see a dropping defender. Three plays later, the Bruins were in the end zone with a 7-0 lead. WSU quickly came back with a TD pass from Gordon to Easop Winston — one of his four TD receptions on the night — and UCLA answered with a field goal.
The Cougs appeared to get quick control in the second quarter, though, scoring TDs on four of their five drives, with the only major blemish being a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown — a portent of terrible things to come. Still, the margin was 35-17 at half, which WSU quickly extended to 42-17 after UCLA punted on its first drive after the break, then extended to 49-17 after the teams traded turnovers.
At this point, the game appeared well in hand. Gordon had more than 360 yards and seven touchdowns. UCLA was doing next to nothing — the Bruins’ best play was a hail mary at the end of the first half that covered 61 yards but ended up one yard short of the end zone.
But things started to go sideways for the Cougars late in the third quarter.
First, UCLA scored a TD with a nine-play, 75-yard drive to close the gap to 49-24. Then, on the first play of the next drive, Gordon found Rodrick Fisher. He fumbled — at least, that’s what the ref ruled on the field, and clear video evidence that his elbow was down before the fumble wasn’t enough to overturn — and UCLA recovered. The Bruins were in the end zone on the very next play with a 37-yard pass.
Still it was only 49-31. The wheels were getting wobbly, but it was hardly time for panic.
WSU quickly drove to UCLA’s 43. Facing 4th-and-4 — and having really only been stopped by turnovers to that point — the Cougars were poised to go for it. But Mike Leach took a timeout, changed his mind, and punted.
One play later, UCLA was in the end zone again: Dorian Thompson-Robinson found a receiver who had been singled up on Jahad Woods running up the seam, and 94 yards later it was 49-38.
WSU got the ball back, but on the second play, Dezmon Patmon fumbled the ball while fighting for extra yards. UCLA recovered. Four plays later, the Bruins were in the end zone again, and with a two-point conversion drew to within 49-46.
The teams proceeded to trade touchdowns, but UCLA finally took the lead when it got a stop and then housed a punt — because of course the Bruins did. However, WSU reclaimed the lead when Max Borghi took a pass in the flat 65 yards to the house, giving the Cougs a 63-60 advantage.
And the Cougs looked to have probably won the game when the defense came up with its first stop since midway through the third quarter — it had given up touchdowns on five consecutive drives across about 15 minutes of game time. The Bruins drove down to the WSU 17, but rather than kick a potentially game-tying field goal, Chip Kelly elected to go for it. The slant fell incomplete, and all Cougs breathed a sigh of relief.
With 2:38 to go and UCLA possessing only two timeouts, WSU needed just a couple of first downs to salt the game away. They appeared to have one of them on the first play of the drive when Gordon went to Winston on a little stop route. As Winston fought for yards, though, he fumbled the ball and UCLA recovered.*
*The ball was on the ground five times in this game. UCLA recovered all five.
UCLA didn’t waste its chance for new life. The first play went for 17 yards down to WSU’s 9-yard line. But the Cougars dialed up the heat on the next two plays, resulting in a sack and an incompletion. Facing 3rd and goal from the 15, UCLA took advantage of WSU’s pressure up the middle, throwing a quick bubble screen to the perimeter. As was the case all night, WSU’s tackling was terrible, and Demetric Felton waltzed into the end zone — 67-63, UCLA.
But with 1:07 left, and WSU’s explosive offense taking the field, it was impossible to say it was over — even with zero timeouts. However, it only took one play to put any hopes of a win to bed: left tackle Liam Ryan got whipped on the edge, Gordon never saw the rusher from his blindside, and the resulting fumble ended up in UCLA’s hands to effectively end the game.
The final numbers are staggering: 63 points, 720 yards of offense ... and six turnovers. UCLA — which had gained just 790 yards all season — finished with 657.
And the win.
WSU now heads to Salt Lake City to play another team that choked away its game this weekend — what figured to be a game between a pair of top 15 teams will now feature one team (probably) out of the top 25 and another in its bottom half.