Early in the week, it was hard to see this one coming. But as the day dawned today it finally hit me that Washington State was playing a team with a bunch of horses up front, horses that haven’t played all that well. Well they did today, and WSU’s defenders just didn’t tackle worth dog spit. Which adds up to a 50-16 blitz. We have a couple more things on the link, so read on.
• If you didn’t read my pregame thoughts, they are here. After the first WSU possession I was thinking maybe I overreacted. Then it didn’t take too long for that to fade. It was gone completely by the third quarter. … We have our game story up so you can read it, along with John Blanchette’s column. … Our notebook isn’t up, so here’s the unedited version …
• PULLMAN – It had been a long time since Washington State had taken an opening kickoff and marched to a score. Two years and five days in fact.
But that’s exactly what the Cougars did Saturday, though it was mostly an afterthought following the 50-16 drubbing by USC at Martin Stadium.
The opening march took eight not-so-unusual plays to eat up the first 51 yards and one of the trick variety to cover the final 29.
Slot receiver Jeffery Solomon, a quarterback at Seattle’s Ingraham High, took a pitch on a reverse and ran right.
Jared Karstetter was running down the seam, with USC cornerback Nickell Robey running behind him. Solomon stopped, planted and let fly a toss toward the end zone. Karstetter walled off Robey, went up, grabbed it and landed with his third touchdown of the year. And a Cougar lead.
“It felt good, not just for me but for the team,” Solomon said. “That was the first time we’ve scored on an opening drive. The energy boost the morale, the fans got into it – it was all good.”
“It was a good ball,” said Karstetter, who had a career-high eight catches for 87 yards. “I was surprised he threw it because I knew whoever was running the wheel (route), I think it was Daniel (Blackledge) had to have been wide open because the corner was running with me.
“So when I saw it I kind of just adjusted to it and tried to press back into him and that prevented him from jumping up a little bit.”
That it was “a good ball” didn’t surprise Solomon, who transferred from Eastern Washington when Paul Wulff left to become WSU’s coach.
“Quarterback is natural for me,” said the senior who was recruited by Portland State to play the position. “Everything else I have to work for. I don’t mean that to sound cocky, but I just played it for so long. This new position (receiver) is the biggest challenge for me.
“Definitely, I think I could play quarterback anywhere. That’s just me. I have a bias about my own skills. If you see more passes, you may be able to make a judgment too.”
The Cougars came out in a four-wide out, spread formation, and ran a no-huddle look the entire game. With it, WSU attacked continually and moved down the field with impunity in the first half, only to be done in by three interceptions.
“We felt that was the plan we needed to do to win this game,” said offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy. “We were aggressive. We planned on being aggressive. We put it on our O-line to protect and put it on our skill guys to make plays.”
Both did, but Sturdy wouldn’t commit to using the same formation exclusively in the future.
“Philosophically we’ve got to take the players we have and execute a game plan we feel we can execute to win,” he said.
Whether WSU stays with the spread look or not, Tuel likes it.
“That’s always a blast at the quarterback position,” he said. “You get to throw it a lot more, open them up, and that’s fun.
“You spread them out and create bigger holes to throw in to. … I like the spread.”
And so does the offensive line.
“It puts a lot of pressure on us,” said guard B.J. Guerra, “and that’s OK. We all want it.”
The Cougars even used a pistol-like formation – with the running back behind the quarterback instead of next to him as in the shotgun – much of the game.
“We just changed the alignment of the back on some of the stuff,” Sturdy explained. “You line the back back there and all of a sudden it’s ‘pistol,’ but it fits our run game, the things we’ve been doing.
“We thought it would give us an advantage. Spreading them out is something we thought we had to do. With what we were going against, we felt we had to spread the field and be very aggressive.”
The turning point of the game, if a 50-16 game can have a turning point, came on WSU’s second possession.
Coming off a productive first drive, Tuel tried to hit Marquess Wilson on a quick out on second down. But Robey stepped in a returned the interception for a back-breaking score. What happened?
“Jeff made a mistake – a young mistake – on that,” Sturdy said. “The corner … was kind of in-between. It was a route we run all the time. If it’s press, we run vertical. If it’s loose, we’re going to run a hitch.
“The corner was in that gray area and Jeff should have seen that pre-snap and he made a mistake. That kid timed it up and jumped it, and that’s the result.”
Tuel said it was a learning experience.
“It’s one of those things I don’t see myself doing again,” he said.
Though Tuel was sacked three times – that’s 13 for the season – he felt the offensive line pass protected well.
“That’s the best it’s been all year,” he said. “They were really consistent. They gave up one or two but every team does that. I was able to step up in the pocket, there was a pocket to throw into to, which makes a big difference.”
Now the bar is set high.
“I think that’s the best we’ve pass protected all season,” Guerra said. “Coach (Steve) Morton was talking to us after the game and he said ‘you guys showed me what you can do, now I’m going to expect that out of you. When you’re not performing that way, I’m going to let you know.’ “
The run blocking was not as effective, with the Cougars averaging 3.6 yards a carry on their 23 running plays.
After WSU took the 7-0 first-quarter lead, Wulff decided to go with a pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff. It didn’t work.
Nico Grasu’s kick was batted out of bounds by Michael Morgan and USC was in business at its 41.
“The thinking was they have three linemen in the back,” Wulff explained. “We worked all week to pooch it, to try to get it down there to the 30-, 25-yard line. They have a 300-pound lineman standing there wasn’t going to field the ball.”
Wulff said he felt the Cougars would either get the ball or USC would be in a field-position hole.
“And then we kick it 15 yards,” he said disgustedly. “Obviously that’s something we’ve got to decide if we’re capable of doing that and, if not, then we do something else.”
• That’s all for now. We’ll be back in the morning, so until then …