There really isn’t much for me to add. You probably either heard or saw UCLA’s 43-7 rout of Washington State. So I’ll post my game story, my notebook and a link and leave it at that. Read on.
• Here’s the long version of the game story …
PULLMAN – The setup seemed perfect.
Washington State University was back on the Palouse for its first football game in 35 days.
It was a crisp fall day, with snow still evident on the Martin Stadium turf.
A Dad’s Weekend crowd of 25,661 was poised to throw its voice behind the home team.
It seemed the perfect time for the Cougars to attack.
But it turns out the UCLA Bruins are adept counter-punchers. They snatched back-to-back-to-back first-quarter interceptions, rolled up 556 yards of total offense and eventually rolled over the stunned Cougars, 43-7, Saturday.
The Cougars won the toss, took the ball and attacked. They were “just trying to create some offense,” coach Paul Wulff said.
That mindset first backfired on the game’s third play.
Sophomore quarterback Marshall Lobbestael, starting in place of freshman Jeff Tuel after the latter’s knee injury last week, tried to make something happen on the first possession.
Facing a third down and about 2 feet at his 29, Lobbestael audibled from a run to pass. He tried to find fullback Jared Byers in the right flat and instead threw the ball to a diving Akeem Ayers.
First down UCLA at Washington State’s 27. A minute, 18 seconds had elapsed.
“We had a run called and he audibled, which wasn’t horrible because they were in a man coverage,” Wulff said following WSU’s seventh consecutive defeat. “He just probably through it to the wrong guy. The outside receiver, Jared (Karstetter) ran a post and he was open.
“He just made a quick decision to throw it there and it wasn’t the right decision.”
One play, and six seconds later, it was 7-0 Bruins.
Taylor Embree ran past corner Aire Justin, who thought he had safety help over the top. He should have, but didn’t.
Quarterback Kevin Prince, who had his third 300-plus yard passing day of his freshman season, found Embree at the 10 and he sauntered in for the score.
“That was a safety issue,” Wulff said. “We were in a Cover 2 and the safety didn’t get over in time.”
The next two WSU possessions ended the same way as the initial one, with Rahim Moore and Ayers picking off Lobbestael passes. For Moore it was his ninth interception of the season.
“You’ve got to give credit to the defense,” said Prince, who directed the Bruins to two touchdowns in the first 10 minutes. “They created the turnovers and we just capitalized.”
Not as much as they could have. Despite the largesse, UCLA (5-5 overall, 2-5 in the Pac-10) cashed in only Ayers’ pick, though it started both possessions in WSU territory.
“I feel as a defense we responded well to the sudden change,” said linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who tied Myron Beck for the game high in tackles with nine.
Aggressive or not, the offense never really got going, finishing with 181 yards of total offense.
Besides Dwight Tardy’s 24-yard, first-quarter run – Tardy finished with 41 yards and moved past Michael Black into seventh on WSU’s career rushing list with 2,167 yards – the Cougars had minus-13 yards 4 minutes into the second quarter.
By then Prince, who was 27 of 40 for 314 yards passing, had scrambled down the left sideline on a 68-yard touchdown run, the longest play of his career. WSU once again trailed by at least three touchdowns before halftime for the seventh time this season.
Prince’s run included a nice move to avoid tackle Toby Turpin at the line of scrimmage and a sprint past Beck, who was locked up with a receiver and admitted to “bad awareness on my part. He just snuck by me.”
With Lobbestael unable to generate any offense – he was 2 of 6 for 6 yards and the three interceptions in 20 minutes – WSU turned to senior Kevin Lopina.
Lopina had not played since the second game of the season, moved down the depth chart for Lobbestael, then Tuel. He also suffered a calf injury that sidelined him a couple weeks, and didn’t make the last two road trips to finishes classes and ensure a first-semester graduation.
“I needed to get hit a little bit,” Lopina said of the rust buildup over the past nine weeks. “Once that happened, it takes care of itself.”
On his second possession, Lopina eluded the UCLA pressure and broke away for what would turn out to be a 36-yard run. But Andrew Abbott caught him from behind and knocked the ball free. UCLA’s Reggie Carter fell on it at the UCLA 29 and WSU (1-10, 0-7) had its fourth and final turnover.
“My dad always told me pressure comes from behind,” Lopina said. “I should have listened.”
Lopina, who finished 7 of 14 for 102 yards, atoned for the mistake in the third quarter, leading a seven-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in the Cougars only score.
Facing a third-and-seven at the UCLA 46 – on the third of just six snaps WSU had in Bruin territory all day – Lopina saw the defense in a Cover 2, with two safeties deep.
“Coach dialed up a play we had been practicing all week,” said Jeffrey Solomon, who got behind Moore, who gambled for another interception, on the left sideline. “We got away with one, really. But when an opportunity presents itself, we’ve got to take advantage of it.”
But that was WSU’s only scoring opportunity on the near-freezing day. By the time Solomon found the end zone, much of the crowd had cleared, braving the icy steps back to their cars and home, leaving the Cougars to lament what might have been.
“We look at other teams and sometimes they get lucky breaks a lot to get away with stuff,” Solomon said. “We seem like we don’t get (any). We’re at the short end of the stick.
“We feel like underdogs. We’ve got to fight to go get ours. We can’t just let things happen … we have to go get it.”
But sometimes, like Saturday, it’s just taken away.
• And here’s the notebook …
PULLMAN – Kevin Lopina started this, his senior season, as Washington State University’s starting quarterback, a spot he kept for two games.
In the ensuing three months, he’s been second string, injured, the scout team quarterback and, Saturday, the architect of WSU’s only scoring play, responsible for 135 of the Cougars’ 181 yards of total offense.
And he remembered why he plays the game.
“Sometimes, when you’re on the grind and you’re doing all this football, you lose what football’s really about,” Lopina said. “You know, it’s a game. You are supposed to have fun with your teammates and things like that.”
He rediscovered that while running the scout team for a couple weeks, duty he said he volunteered for in an effort to help a WSU team that is 1-9 overall, 0-7 in the Pac-10.
“Going down there, just throwing the ball around, running around, it made me think I was in high school or Pop Warner again,” Lopina said. “And I think it gave me a regained confidence.”
He showed off the confidence on his 46-yard third-quarter touchdown toss to Jeffrey Solomon.
Despite UCLA trying to take away the deep route with a zone, Lopina found Solomon behind the defense down the left sideline.
“I told him, when I was out there, if they are in Cover 2, I’m going to go up top and hit them in the hole,” he said. “They were, I did and it worked.”
Despite his relief performance, Lopina knows the quarterback job is Jeff Tuel’s when he returns from his dislocated kneecap.
“It’s my senior year,” Lopina said, “and I’ve got three games left, maybe, in my career. I just wanted to go out there, make a statement, have fun.
“This may be my last time playing football, so every opportunity I get, I want to take it somewhere.”
Washington State honored long-time radio broadcaster Bob Robertson on the field before the game.
And they will honor him in perpetuity, naming the booth he’s used for years at Martin Stadium the Bob Robertson Broadcast Suite.
Robertson, who has been named Washington Sportscaster of the Year 12 times, is in his 43rd season of broadcasting Cougar football games.
For 24 years he did double duty, covering the WSU basketball team as well.
In those days, Robertson said, he would leave his Tacoma home for weeks at a time, staying in Pullman broadcasting both games. Now he flies over for Cougar games on Friday.
The snow this week played havoc with his schedule. Robertson’s Pullman flight was detoured to Lewiston and, he said, finding his way up to Pullman was an adventure.
Reid Forrest had one of his best punting games of his career – and one of the worst results.
Forrest averaged 50.3 yards on six punts, including a 57-yarder on his first attempt.
But the junior also had a punt from the endzone blocked, the result of a mishandled snap and a strong UCLA rush.
“It was kind of a low snap and the ball was wet,” Forrest said. “It got away from me. I turned around and that was a little too late. I tried to get the ball off and they were there.”
Forrest sidestepped two Bruins but couldn’t avoid Sean Westgate, who took the ball off his arms, knocking it through the endzone for a safety and giving UCLA a 23-0 lead.
On his next punt, Forrest, using a rugby technique, boomed a 54-yarder that Terrence Austin took back all the way to the WSU 2-yard line. However, the runback was nullified by an illegal block.
By then, Forrest was running off the field, his left arm hanging limply by his side. After punting the ball, he had been hit, causing a shoulder subluxation, a slight dislocation.
“It didn’t come all the way out, so it’s just a minor sprain,” said Forrest, who returned to punt in the second half.
The offensive line WSU expected to start every game this season returned to the field for the first time since the Hawaii game in week two.
The group did an improved job of pass protection, giving up two sacks – WSU had yielded an average of five per game coming in – but still didn’t reach its goals, according to senior center Kenny Alfred.
“One thing that was nice to see was a little improvement in the offensive line play,” Alfred said. “We’re finally at a point where we have some guys back. We’re actually gaining the ability to have some cohesiveness, which is something we needed pretty desperately.
“At the same time, something extremely disappointing from today was those mistakes. Those things that kill drives, those things kill possibilities and opportunities we had open to us.”
As his career winds down, Alfred is looking for a few things. The most important one is improvement.
“I want guys who want to believe and are willing to fight from the first snap to the last snap of the game,” he said.
Did they do that Saturday?
“I think it’s something we need to do a lot better,” he said.
The Bruins came into the game ninth in the Pac-10 in total offense. But they set a number of personal records while racking up 556 yards of total offense, the most this season.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Prince’s 68-yard touchdown run was the longest of his career.
Chane Moline scored three touchdowns for the first time in his career on runs of 2, 7 and 16 yards. He also had seven receptions for 60 yards.
“He’s just getting more opportunities,” Prince said. “He has always had the ability. He’s a great pass catcher who is tough to bring down.”
The defense also had its share of stars, starting with All-Pac-10 tackle Brian Price, who had three tackles for loss for the second time this season.
The Cougars’ 181 yards of total offense was also the fewest the Bruins have yielded this season.
• That’s it for now. We also have a link to Bud Withers’ column in the Seattle Times. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …