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A look back at WSU’s loss to ND


COUGARS

I know it’s late, but here are the unedited versions of my follow story and our look back that will appear in this morning’s S-R. Read on.

••••••••••

• Here is the follow …

Jason Stripling has played college football for five years. As a linebacker who played his high school football in Texas and college in the Pac-10, he’s accustomed to seeing big guys on the offensive line.

But what he saw Saturday in the Alamodome was of a different level.

The Notre Dame offensive line was so big, so physical, the 5-foot-11, 242-pound Stripling had to search for the right word to describe them following Washington State’s 40-14 loss Saturday night.

“They had a pretty big line,” Stripling finally said. “They had some monuments up front.”

Yes, monuments. Monuments to a Notre Dame tradition of dominating offensive lines. And monuments to success.

“Even their backs were more physical,” WSU coach Paul Wulff marveled. “We couldn’t bring them down.

“It surprised me a little bit. They were more physical than we thought.”

On both sides of the ball.

Though the Irish (6-2) offense ground out 255 yards rushing and added another 337 through the air, it was defense that really threw its size around. They attacked from every spot, overpowering and disrupting Washington State’s youthful offense.

And, at times, freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel.

“I thought early on he got a little flustered, but we didn’t block very well,” Wulff said of Tuel’s 12-of-23 passing performance. “And we didn’t give him a chance to get into any rhythm. It’s hard to gauge it when he got hit a few times early.

“It seemed like even when he got rid of the ball he was getting hit.”

On Tuel’s first eight attempts, he was sacked twice and hit another three times.

“There’s no question it has an affect,” Wulff said.

“Maybe a little at times,” said Tuel, who had two interceptions to go with two touchdown passes. “But mostly it was just a lack of execution.”

Besides, Tuel said, it comes with the position.

“It’s just going to happen sometimes,” he said. “I’m going to take my lickings. That’s just how it goes.”

The physical defense forced WSU’s kids – the Cougars started five freshman or sophomores on offense – out of their comfort zone and frustrating them.

“We played young on offense,” Wulff said. “This was the day it showed up.”

“We just didn’t have a lot of time,” said sophomore receiver Jared Karstetter, who caught both scores. “It was frustrating as an offense. As wideouts we didn’t block sometimes (on runs) and sometimes we didn’t get enough time to run our routes.”

Despite what Wulff termed “a clear, clear disadvantage,” in size, the second-year coach felt the Cougars (1-7) gave everything they had. Especially on defense, which was also hampered by Notre Dame’s ability to hold the ball – the Irish had 40 minutes, 54 seconds of possession.

“I thought the guys played hard,” Wulff said. “The defense was on the field too long because we couldn’t establish consistency on offense. That aided their run game.”

And built another monument to success.

•••

• And the look back…

Notre Dame 40, WSU 14

• High point of the game

Considering the circumstances, the Cougars’ first touchdown drive may have been their most efficient of the season. Playing against the same Notre Dame defense that had held them to two first downs over most of two quarters, WSU marched from its 33 – after another of Dwight Tardy’s strong kickoff returns – in seven plays. Tardy got it going with a 20-yard run, Logwone Mitz followed with 12 more, Jeff Tuel converted their first third down in six tries and WSU had a second-and-5 at the 11-yard line. Jared Karstetter lined up on the right facing Robert Blanton. Tuel lifted up, tossed the ball to Karstetter’s outside shoulder and the 6-foot-4 sophomore went up and got it over the 6-1 Blanton. It was 23-7. Halftime was only a little over a minute away.

• Low point of the game

That was enough time for Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate. Clausen had to overcome a couple big penalties with sharp sideline passes, but Notre Dame still was 50 yards away with 7 seconds left. Clausen dropped back, rolled right and launched the ball toward Tate and the right side of the end zone. Xavier Hicks, Myron Beck and Aire Justin were all in position, but it was the 5-11 Tate who rose above everyone, got two hands on the ball and out-muscled the Cougars. The jaw-dropping catch killed the Cougars’ momentum, energized the crowd and secured a victory.

• A pat on the back

They were stuck in a corner of the Alamodome, as outnumbered, it seemed, as Jim Travis’ men against Santa Anna’s hordes 173 years ago. But the Cougar fans made their voices heard – right from the start. The crimson group began a “Go Cougs” chant in a quiet interlude before kickoff and kept it up until the Irish faithful figured out what was happening and drowned them out. But they kept their voices up even as the game got out of hand. It’s little wonder both WSU touchdowns came in the end zone on their fans’ end.

• Needs fixing

Here are the second downs Washington State faced on its first four drives: Second-and-20, second-and-5, second-and-19 and, after its initial first down, second-and-21. In other words, execution on first down was nowhere to be found. “I think we played behind the chains today,” Karstetter said. “Anytime you get in second and long, third and long, it’s hard for anyone to execute. I don’t care what kind of offense you are.” Without a ground game – the Cougars only ran the ball well on two drives, and scored on both – it’s hard to get favorable second- and third-down situations.

Three unanswered questions

• How tough will it be in the desert next week? Three consecutive road games are tough even on veteran teams. Of course, WSU isn’t a veteran team. And there’s the opponent. The Arizona Wildcats are one of the best teams in the Pac-10 when they are hitting on all cylinders. After a bye week, they’ll probably be humming, not sputtering. The offense has evolved under new quarterback Nick Foles. The Wildcats now throw it as well as anyone in the conference, which doesn’t bode well for a WSU secondary that may be without safety Chima Nwachukwu, who sprained an ankle Saturday.

• Are the players getting discouraged? Taking the temperature of players on a losing team after another loss is always a struggle. It’s better done on a daily basis. That being said, the Cougars were still unfailing committed after the defeat, as they have been in practice. Usually by this time in a tough season, doubt about leadership can creep in. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Take these comments from Tardy, a senior who has been in-and-out of the lineup, seen his carries diminish and is a holdover from the previous staff. Yet he, and others who spoke, thinks the team is getting ready the right way. “The coaches do a good job coaching us, we prepared all week really well and, unfortunately, it just doesn’t show,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job of executing.”

• Is there a win on the horizon? It seems like everyone in Cougar Nation is pointing toward the UCLA game in two weeks as the best chance. Yes, there could be a good case made for that game, none less important than the Bruins rarely seem to play well in Pullman, especially when it’s cold. But there are two big problems with that scenario. The first is somewhat counter-intuitive. UCLA has lost five consecutive times. So the Bruins probably have WSU circled on their schedule as well. The other is the never-ending problem with injuries. The Cougars have grown so thin at most spots on defense – secondary, linebacker, defensive tackle – that any ding means a dropoff. Any more dings and even the Bruins, who seemed to find their passing game Saturday, might put up 400 yards.

•••

• That’s it for now. We’ll be back in the morning with links. Until then …


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