We are being kicked out of the press box, so I’ll post my game story and notebook. When I get to Phoenix, I’ll check your comments and add some notes.
• Here’s the game story …
TUCSON – Just when it looked like it couldn’t get any worse for Washington State University, it did.
In a lot of different ways.
The most pronounced, of course, took the form of the Cougars 48-7 loss to Arizona.
The defeat, dropping WSU to 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the Pac-10, came before a sun-drenched crowd of 50,242 on Saturday, many of whom left after UA built a 34-0 halftime lead.
The most damaging, however, might be the injury sustained by freshman starting quarterback Jeff Tuel in the second quarter.
Sacked by linebacker Xavier Kelley while trying to scramble, Tuel suffered a subluxation (a slight dislocation) of his kneecap and did not return. His status will be determined after the team’s return to Pullman, but did say he felt fine as he hobbled off the field on crutches.
“It’s not serious, which is good,” said WSU coach Paul Wulff, ruling out a tear or something of that nature. “I mean, how long it will be, we don’t know.”
But by the time of Tuel’s injury, the outcome was known.
Heck, it might have been known following the opening kickoff.
“They blocked us, we couldn’t get off blocks and run him down,” Wulff said of Travis Cobb’s 95-yard scoring return.
“We told them they were going to have a field return,” Wulff continued, “we told them this is what we anticipate, we’re going to kick it to the corner and (they’ll) bring it back to the field.
“They did exactly that and we didn’t get off blocks and make the play.”
Cobb did. He gathered in Patrick Rooney’s kick at his 5, headed to the middle, ran through a huge hole, sidestepped Rooney, outran Terrance Hayward and scored going away.
Thirteen seconds in, WSU trailed 7-0.
But that’s not unusual. The Cougars have trailed in all nine games this season, and last led in regulation a year ago today, when Dwight Tardy scored on the opening drive against UA. This time it was the Wildcats’ turn.
“They opened up with that kickoff, and it’s hard to open the game when you’re down seven,” said Andy Mattingly, who had 11 tackles despite playing on a sore right knee. “And then when you are on the field that long – I think they ran like 70 or 80 plays – we just got tired.”
The 21st-ranked Wildcats (6-2 overall, 4-1 in the Pac-10, tied in the loss column with Oregon atop the conference standings) actually ran 78. They never punted and scored the first seven times they had the ball.
“They had long drives and we couldn’t get off the field,” Mattingly said. “They made plays. We didn’t.”
The Wildcats made plays on the ground – 294 rushing yards, 91 of them by second-string quarterback Matt Scott – and through the air – 177 passing yard, with starter Nick Foles hitting 12-of-19 throws, operating behind a line that has yielded only four sacks all season.
“(Our) offense today was a little weird,” an obviously hard-to-please Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “I didn’t see us get a great rhythm today.”
They made plays on special teams – besides Cobb’s touchdown, William Wright returned Reid Forrest’s 61-yard punt 86 yards right after halftime – and after WSU turnovers – Tuel had two fumbles, the first leading to a 14-yard scoring drive, the last to a 7-minute march to a Alex Zendejas 27-yard field goal.
“Between turning the ball over and special-team issues,” Wulff said, “you hand over three touchdowns. You give them three touchdowns, you just don’t give yourself a chance.”
The Cougars’ best drive of the game was also their worst.
Starting from its 9, WSU ground out play after play, moving the ball down the field methodically behind an all-true-freshman backfield.
Carl Winston carried the ball. Tuel handed it to him. Jarred Byers blocked. After six plays the ball was at the 33.
Tardy, who finished with 44 yards and moved into eighth place on WSU’s career rushing list, took it from there, bursting through the middle for 37 yards to the Arizona 21. A personal foul – replays showed Zack Williams brushed an Arizona defender near the pile – moved the ball back to the 36.
It was temporary setback. Two passes, a run and a face-mask penalty put the ball at the Arizona 9. But a holding call moved the ball back to the 19.
That’s when Tuel, playing for the first time as a collegian in the town he grew up in, scrambled, tried to make a play and went down. He was 5 of 10 for 23 yards passing and had been sacked four times.
“When you see one of your friends go down like that, it’s a crappy feeling,” said backup Marshall Lobbestael. “At the same time, you have to prepare yourself to be the No. 2 guy.”
Lobbestael completed 7 of 11 passes for 103 yards, 64 of them coming on the Cougars’ lone score.
Trailing 48-0, Lobbestael found Jared Karstetter down the numbers on the right side. The sophomore was able to avoid Mike Turner, grab the ball with one hand, and sprint in the last 40 yards for the score. It was Karstetter’s sixth touchdown catch of the season, the most since Brandon Gibson caught nine in 2007.
“It was actually a good call by Jared,” Lobbestael said. “He saw a matchup he had, we were just on the same page and he made a play.”
“Marsh just audibled it,” Karstetter said. “The credit goes to Marsh there.”
Whoever called it, it worked. Not much else did.
“We had bodies always on people,” Wulff said. “It seemed like we were in position, we just didn’t make the play. Even on defense. It seemed like we had guys in positions, we’d either miss the tackle or they would make the play over us.”
• And here’s the notebook …
TUCSON – It’s been exactly a year since Washington State University led during regulation time of a football game.
The Cougars’ one win this season – 30-27 over SMU – was the result of Nico Grasu’s 39-yard overtime field goal. They hadn’t led in that game until Grasu’s kick passed through the uprights.
Last season, they led Washington in the first overtime on a Grasu kick, and won it in the second, again on a Grasu field goal.
The last time seconds ticked off the clock with WSU in the lead was Nov. 8, 2008, when Dwight Tardy scored on the opening drive against the Arizona Wildcats.
Saturday, the deficit building took just 13 seconds, with Travis Cobb’s 95-yard return of the opening kickoff putting UA up 7-0 en route to a 48-7 victory.
Senior linebacker Andy Mattingly remembers what it feels like to play with a lead.
“When you have the lead, it’s easy for (the defense) to go out there and feel confident,” Mattingly said, “and then just go out and make plays. But when you are down, you start worrying about people making plays and it just goes down hill.”
Jared Karstetter, who teamed with quarterback Marshall Lobbestael for the Cougars’ lone score, a fourth-quarter 64-yard pass, thinks playing from behind isn’t any harder.
“It’s deceiving to think you have to play from the lead,” Karstetter said. “Whenever we start driving, we’re fine. It’s when we start getting in those three-and-out modes, that things don’t go well.”
The Cougars (1-8 overall, 0-6 in the Pac-10) opened the game with four three-and-outs (the last one ended in a fumble), had a 12-play drive, then had four more three-and-outs.
The injury list grew once again, leaving the Cougars with just two healthy safeties for the second half.
Jay Matthews, playing in the place of usual starter Chima Nwachukwu (sprained ankle), re-injured his left shoulder. It’s the same shoulder that required off-season surgery. His status is unknown.
Kyle McCartney, a backup safety and special team player who was the captain last week, broke his right fibula and is out for the season. It is the third broken leg suffered by a Cougar secondary member this season.
“Never,” WSU coach Paul Wulff answered when asked if he had ever seen so many broken legs. “All of them are freshmen. … You play young guys and they physically don’t match with their opponents, you’re going to have issues.”
Quarterback Jeff Tuel missed the second half with a subluxation of his right knee and offensive tackle Tyson Pencer missed the last three quarters after re-aggravating his left ankle sprain. Their status will be determined this week.
Grasu was also not available after straining his right quadriceps muscle kicking Thursday.
Though coach Mike Stoops never felt his team got into rhythm, the Pac-10’s leading offense put up 471 yards of total offense.
The attack, with usual starting running back Nic Grigsby out with a shoulder problem, had 294 rushing yards, with four players posting 50 or more.
Nick Foles wasn’t one of them, but the starting quarterback ran around behind the line of scrimmage often enough. He bought time with his feet and riddled WSU’s secondary for 136 yards on 12-of-19 passing.
“Nick Foles is really, really good,” Wulff said of the sophomore who didn’t start until UA’s fourth game. “He was so accurate and poised.”
Mainly because he had as much as 10 seconds to throw.
“Coming into the game we knew it was going to be tough to get to him,” Mattingly said. “I think they are (tied for first) in sacks allowed in the country.
“When you give them that much time, every quarterback is going to be good.”
WSU, which has just nine sacks, had none Saturday.
But Foles also had 6-foot-4 Delashaun Dean and 6-2 Terrel Turner as targets.
Dean had four catches – tying WSU’s Gino Simone for game-high honors – including a 30-yard drag route in which he outran safety Myron Beck.
Turner matched up with 5-9 cornerback Brandon Jones early, going up to catch the Wildcats (6-2, 4-1) first touchdown pass despite Jones in good coverage.
Arizona Stadium seats 57,400 and is usually pretty close to full. But it is starting to show its age, and a move is afoot by athletic director Jim Livengood to expand and upgrade the stadium.
The expansion won’t add a lot of seats, but is slated to include a football-only building on the north side of the stadium. The football offices are in McKale Center, along with all Arizona sports.
The building would include all the now-usual amenities like offices, weight room and locker rooms for the football team.
The upgrades would be centered around the concourses, restrooms and other ancillary facilities, similar to what Washington State has done at Martin Stadium.
Other parts of the project include a new scoreboard and lighting, renovation of the practice facility and luxury seating upgrades.
Fund-raising is under way with Arizona alums Jeff and Sharon Stevens pledging $10 million Thursday. The expansion project is expected to cost $82 million. The Arizona Board of Regents will be asked to approve the project in January.
• That’s it for now. We’ll be back. Until then …