WSU Football | Cougars caught looking ahead of Wildcats
Seattle Times staff reporter
PULLMAN — The visit of Arizona to the Palouse was viewed as a kick-yourself-if-you-lose game, with 25th-ranked Washington State a 16 ½-point favorite.
Well, the Cougars should be plenty black and blue today.
They came out flat and got flattened 27-17 before a sellout crowd of 35,117.
Not only was the defeat embarrassing for WSU, it was costly. The Cougars lost star wide receivers Michael Bumpus and Jason Hill in the second quarter to high ankle sprains suffered when they made cuts on turf wet from a rainy afternoon.
Hill's injury is believed to be the more serious of the two and the deep threat is doubtful for the Apple Cup in two weeks.
The Cougars did their about-face after two weeks of nonstop compliments and headlines after beating Oregon and UCLA.
"We knew exactly what was coming, but at the same time when people are telling you how great you are, it's hard," said junior quarterback Alex Brink. "You have to block that stuff out. We came out flat. I don't know why. We can't have that, especially against Pac-10 teams."
The Cougars had a season-low 45 yards rushing and made only two first downs in the first half. They were 0 for 6 in third-down conversions in the first half, and allowed Arizona to dominate the time of possession for the game, 35:27 to 24:33.
The defeat dropped the Cougars to 6-4, 4-3 and improved Arizona to 4-5, 2-4.
It was the "big win" of 2006 so far for third-year Arizona coach Mike Stoops, who entered the game 9-21 but had pulled one upset in each of his first two seasons. Arizona surprised Arizona State in 2004 and ambushed UCLA last year. This year, the Cougars were the victims.
Saturday, Arizona's ability to run the ball was pivotal. The Wildcats' defense had earned league-wide respect before reaching Pullman, but the Wildcats had been considered offensively deficient. They entered the game averaging 71.4 yards a game on the ground, but finished with 142 Saturday. Junior Chris Henry rushed a school-record 35 times for 94 yards and scored twice.
Three Cougars mistakes in the first half led to three Arizona scores and its 20-10 halftime lead.
The first was a blown coverage.
Willie Tuitama, who had been out for two games after suffering his second concussion of the season, started for the Wildcats and made his presence felt immediately with a 78-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Anthony Johnson on the third play of the game. Johnson got behind middle linebacker Greg Trent, who didn't have any support from safeties.
In the second quarter, a Brink fumble at the WSU 27 led to a 48-yard field goal, and a bad punt snap by WSU led to a 37-yard field goal, both by Nick Folk.
The most spectacular WSU play of the game tied the contest at 7-7. Brink hit Brandon Gibson on a 91-yard pass-and-run for the second-longest passing play in WSU history. Arizona safety Michael Johnson went for the interception and missed.
The Cougars went ahead 10-7 with 4:50 left in the first period on a 37-yard field goal by Romeen Abdollmohammadi, who was making his first start. An interception by linebacker Steve Dildine had given the Cougars possession for the scoring drive.
The lead was short-lived as the Wildcats drove 80 yards and scored on a 3-yard run by Henry to take the lead for good.
The Cougars cut the lead to 20-17 in the third quarter after the teams exchanged fumbles on the same play. Tardy fumbled for the Cougars at the Wildcat 3, but then linebacker Spencer Larson fumbled the ball back when hit by Charles Dillon and Sean O'Connor recovered. Two plays later, Jed Collins, a tight end, lined up as a back and flew over bodies and the goal line on a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
Arizona scored its final touchdown after a fake punt backfired for the Cougars. Punter Darryl Blunt was stopped by three defenders after taking a pitchout from upback Scott Davis.
The Wildcats drove 52 yards on eight plays and made two clutch third-down conversions on the drive that ended with Henry scoring on a 6-yard run. On third-and-11 from the Arizona 47, Tuitama hooked up with Syndric Steptoe on a 21-yard completion. Then on third-and-two at the 24, he found Mike Thomas for 16 yards.
The Cougars remain bowl-eligible, but the dream of a 10-win season evaporated in the Palouse rain.
WSU coach Bill Doba said, "We better learn from this one."
Craig Smith: 206-464-8279 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company