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Another game, another defeat for WSU


COUGARS

We're finally done. On the link you'll find the long versions of the game story and the notebook. Tomorrow we'll link the edited versions. Read on.
••••••••••

• Here's the gamer ...

BERKELEY – Standing in a tunnel under ancient Memorial Stadium, Paul Wulff was talking once again about time.

But this was different.

Wulff wasn't talking about the time the program needs before it can avoid defeats like the 49-17 one the California Golden Bears pinned on Washington State. That's ground he's covered often in the 22 months he's been head coach.

No, this time he was talking about how short a time it took Saturday for the Cougars to fall behind by three touchdowns, the fourth time that's occurred this season.

"We just put ourselves in a darn hole," is how Wulff put it.

And he was talking about the time quarterback Jeff Tuel had to throw and, when he got it, how well the freshman used it.

"What he did do, what was the big growth today was he trusted his protection more, unlike the last few weeks," Wulff said. "When he trusted it, he was able to step up in the pocket and make some big throws."

Big throws, yes, but ultimately immaterial. That's because Washington State's fifth consecutive Pac-10 loss was ensured in near-record time.

The Bears struck for four first-quarter touchdowns, three of them touchdowns passes from oft-criticized quarterback Kevin Riley.

Put into a 28-3 chasm in the first 14 minutes, WSU spent the next 46 trying to claw out.

By the time the young Cougars (1-6 overall, 0-5 in Pac-10 play) settled down – Cal had 178 of its 559 yards of total offense and 130 return yards in that 14-minute span – the hole was too deep.

Which meant the closest the Cougars could get was 35-17 just before half.

"I'm just disappointed by the way we responded to some of the situations," said co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball. "We got on our heels, which happens with a young football team, and we just didn't respond very well."

For once this year, the offense did, led by Tuel.

He was 28 of 42 passing for 354 yards, the second-most ever for a Washington State freshman. The most? Drew Bledsoe's 385 against Arizona in 1990.

With guard Zack Williams and B.J. Guerra returning from leg injuries – Williams started and Guerra played from the second series on – the WSU offense put on its best showing against a Pac-10 school in Wulff's tenure.

And it all started up front.

"That's a well-known fact in football," said freshman Gino Simone, who caught his first collegiate touchdown pass, a 19-yard strike from Tuel on a second-quarter, corner-post route. "When they give us time to work, we do good things."

"He trusted (his protection) a little more," offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said of Tuel. "I really focused (this week) with the quarterbacks getting them to understand we've got to step up in the pocket."

Besides the yardage numbers, Tuel also threw two touchdowns, led WSU on five drives of more than 50 yards – the first time that's happened this season – and didn't have a turnover.

"I was able to step up in the pocket and deliver a few times," said Tuel, who had a large group of family and friends among the 54,738 in attendance, having driven over from Fresno. "I had faith in my O-line, trusted my O-line and I feel pretty good about it."

Literally stepping up, Tuel ignored the collapsing pocket – he was still sacked five times – to connect with Johnny Forzani on their second long touchdown throw in two games.

After getting roughed following an incomplete pass to Forzani on a comeback route, on the next play Tuel found the junior wide receiver behind Bryant Nnabuife deep down the left sideline.

Though Nnabuife leapt and slapped at the ball, Forzani didn't lose focus, gathered it in at sprinted the final 15 yards to the end zone, doing a little leap as he crossed the line.

"It was like the perfect ball," Forzani said of the throw. "He made it easy for me."

But all the yardage did was keep Cal (5-2, 2-2) within shouting distance – and that's all the WSU defense did with Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen and the rest of the Bears' offense most of the day.

With WSU unable to find the end zone in the second half despite two long drives – "We just shot ourselves in the foot there a couple times at the end," Tuel said – the Bears expanded their lead despite playing conservatively.

Best and Vereen split 26 carries, with Best exploding for 159 yards – 61 coming on a quick hitter up the middle early in the second quarter. The junior also scored Cal's first touchdown – on a 27-yard pass from Riley less than a minute in on which Best got behind former teammate Brandon Jones – and another on a short third-quarter run.

"That back is good, goodness gracious," Ball said. "We're not the only one he's gashed all year."

Riley was good as well. The oft-maligned junior quarterback was 12 of 18 for 229 yards and three touchdowns. His longest hookup, a 61-yard toss to Jeremy Ross, didn't get to the endzone, but Ross had found a way earlier, returning a first-quarter punt 76 yards to make it 21-0. That followed his game-opening 54-yard kickoff return, setting up Best's reception.

"Special teams was a big piece" of WSU's slow start, Wulff said. "We open up, give up a big return and they score right away. Then there was the punt return."

And the defense didn't step up.

"We know we're young," Ball said. "We know people are getting tired of that as an excuse, but it's the truth. We're a young football team. We're learning. We just need some time."

••••••

• And here's the notebook ...

BERKELEY – You wouldn't know it by his performance, but Reid Forrest played Saturday, in his own words, "with a pretty heavy heart, that's for sure," in the Cougars' 49-17 loss at Cal.

Forrest's maternal grandfather, Clarence "Bud" Herman passed away last week in Ephrata at age 92.

"Just lost his driver's license six months ago," Forrest said, smiling. "He was my biggest fan. Even if he didn't know who I was on the field, he would tell me I did a good job."

Forrest took a day off this week to go home and help the family sort through his grandfather's things, but neither that nor his feelings of loss seemed to effect his kicking.

The junior punted seven times for a 42.9 yard average, had a long of 53 yards and dropped three down inside Cal's 20.

But there was one Forrest wishes had never come down.

Cal's Jeremy Ross gathered in a 42-yarder at his 24 late in the first quarter, split the two gunners, made Xavier Hicks miss and took it down the sideline for the Bears' third score.

"That was my first time doing that," Ross said. "I've been waiting a long time to make a big play like that."

Forrest was the Cougars' last line of defense.

"I saw a wall of about four guys coming at me," he said. "I tried to make him cut back and they just escorted me to the sidelines and that was that."

•••

For the first time this season Washington State scored in the first quarter. Heck, for the first time in almost a year.

Nico Grasu's 24-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 20 seconds left in the opening quarter marked the first time since last Nov. 8 that the Cougars put points on the board in the first 15 minutes of a game.

At the time Grasu line up his kick, however, WSU trailed 21-0, having given up a 27-yard scoring pass from Kevin Riley to Jahvid Best, another Riley scoring strike, this one of 37 yards to Marvin Jones, and a 76-yard scoring punt return by Jeremy Ross.

And, after Grasu's kick, Patrick Rooney's kickoff sailed out of bounds, Best broke off two runs for 39 yards and Riley found Shane Vereen for a 21-yard screen play and a 28-3 lead.

Though the Cougars have trailed at the end of the first quarter in all but four games in the last two seasons – they led in just one – this was the first time anyone had put up four scores in the first 15 minutes.

"We were rolling," Ross said, "and it was very exciting."

The Cal offense, which finished with 559 yards of total offense, was clicking so well, in fact, WSU's two safeties, Hicks and Chima Nwachukwu led in tackles, with 14 and 10 respectively.

WSU rallied for 14 more points before halftime, the most points its scored against a Pac-10 opponent in a half since the 2007 Apple Cup.

•••

Senior running back Dwight Tardy, though listed as the starter, wasn't on the field for the game's first play. In fact, Tardy had just a handful of plays on offense and carried the ball only once for no gain.

Freshman Carl Winston and sophomore Logwone Mitz split 16 carries, with Winston breaking off the Cougars' longest run, 37 yards, and finishing with a team high 51.

"We're just trying to mix it up with those guys," offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy said. "All three of those kids are going to play the remainder of the year."

Sturdy added each will be used depending on the scheme and plays.

Another running back, junior Marcus Richmond, suffered WSU's lone injury, leaving early with a hamstring strain.

Tardy did see a lot of action, but it was on the kickoff return team.

Making his first appearance there since his freshman year – two returns for 20 yards then – Tardy returned five kicks for 93 yards, including a 38-yarder on his first effort.

He also threw one pass, teaming up with Jeffrey Solomon for 31 yards. It wasn't the easiest of Solomon's seven catches, however, as Tardy's throw floated and Solomon had to go up between defenders, catch it and come down inbounds.

•••

The Bears not only ran for 309 yards – five rushers were in double digits, led by Jahvid Best's 159 on 13 carries – but Kevin Riley passed for another 229.

And he was democratic about it.

Riley and backup Beau Sweeney completed 15 passes. They went to 11 different receivers, with only Marvin Jones (three), Shane Vereen and Anthony Miller (two apiece) catching more than one.

Riley's three touchdown passes also went to three different receivers.

"On the first one (to Best), I think it was just miscommunication on their side because the corner (Brandon Jones) was sitting like he had over-the-top help," Riley said. "With the other ones, Marvin made a nice catch and there was nice blocking up front on the screen pass to Shane."

Riley did throw an interception, only his second of the year.

Myron Beck was able to gather in Riley's third-quarter pass to Ross at the WSU 23 and return it to the 34, but Jeff Tuel was sacked twice and the Cougars punted.

It was Beck's second interception this season and third in his career. The Cougars have forced 19 turnovers, six more than they had all last season.

•••

WSU was hit with 13 penalties, its most this year, for 114 yards, but it seemed like more to coach Paul Wulff.

"I felt like we had thirty penalties," he said. "We had a lot of (procedure) calls. We were trying to handle the noise and we didn't do a good job of that."

WSU had three false start penalties on the first-quarter drive that ended in Nico Grasu's 24-yard field goal and two more later in the game.

•••

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




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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