PULLMAN – Strike the streak.
After 280 consecutive games without being shut out, Washington State finally suffered that indignity Saturday in a 69-0 humiliation at the hands of sixth-ranked USC at Martin Stadium – and there was never a doubt.
The Cougars never crossed midfield on offense. They got to their own 49 early in the third quarter, only to see running back Logwone Mitz lose 4 yards on second down and Brandon Gibson get flagged for holding the next play. They were at their 41 in the fourth period when quarterback Kevin Lopina was intercepted by USC’s Will Harris.
Dating back to a 44-0 loss to Ohio State in 1984, WSU’s streak was the second-longest active one in the country (Michigan ran its streak to 295 in a loss to Penn State on Saturday) and fourth all-time.
“I don’t like it, like anybody else,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “If I could have changed it, I would have.
The Cougars resorted to a conservative offensive plan – just nine passes – to help protect quarterback Kevin Lopina, in his first action since suffering a non-displaced fracture of the back against Portland State. But just as significant, they forced no turnovers to allow a short field – no WSU possession started beyond its 22. The Cougars’ best opportunity was probably the game’s opening kickoff, which Patrick Rooney dropped behind the Trojans’ up blockers and remained loose for a few moments before USC covered it.
“I think I knew about it,” Gibson said of the streak. “You’re fighting and digging and scratching, but you don’t have anything to fight and dig and scratch with, because we couldn’t really take shots (downfield).”
“A lot of people are bummed that it ended, but it happens,” Lopina said.
Before the Cougars launched their streak of 280, the previous run without a shutout had been just 22 games – going back to a 12-0 loss to Colorado in Spokane in 1982.
One wrinkle the Cougars tried to take pressure off Lopina and lessen the hits he would take was to motion him wide and make direct snaps to Gibson, Mitz or Chantz Staden. Those plays – six of them – went for 23 yards, with Mitz gaining 11 on one run in the third quarter. On the last of those plays, to start a possession that same period, Lopina didn’t even come off the sideline.
“A lot of times when you get the quarterback out of the box there, it moves one more (defensive) guy and leaves the defensive gap short,” Wulff said. “That’s what it did do and we had some success. Another way is to find other ways to run the ball – through deception – to alleviate the quarterback taking any more punishment.”
Cougars channel anger
Brian Danaher was hurting. There was an ice bag on his left shoulder, another on his left leg. But those pains weren’t anything compared to the hurt he was carrying inside.
“You can’t just forget about it,” he said following the Cougars’ worst shutout defeat in history, surpassing the 61-0 loss to Cal in 1922. “You’ve got to let it hurt. And you have to take that hurt to practice.
“You don’t want to get depressed about it, but hurt in the way where you get mad about it and doing something about it, because I don’t want this to ever happen again.”
That seemed to be the attitude among the Cougars’ players after USC beat them down, but not into submission.
With a bye coming up this week, the lessons are going to stay with them for a while.
“It better,” junior defensive end Andy Mattingly answered when asked if things were going to change. “Something has to change, something dramatic. We’re going to change it. There’s no ifs about it.”
“It begins with the players themselves,” Lopina said. “A lot of people are playing not to mess up. We just got to go out there and have fun. … We’re not doing that. We’re playing scared. That’s got to change. We’ve got to play with more confidence.
“I don’t know how we’re going to do that.”
Danaher has a thought.
“Keep watching film, keep going in early … keep doing extra work and fix the little mistakes that we’re making,” he said. “That’s all we can really do right now. We can’t all of sudden gain 25 pounds of muscle. What we can do is just try to work on the little things, keep getting better.”
Recruiting horror story
The search for recruits to help turn the program around led recruiting coordinator Rich Rasmussen to Tacoma on Friday night and almost cost him dearly.
Headed down Interstate 5 after visiting some Puget Sound high schools, Rasmussen was rear-ended, destroying the Chevy Impala rental he was driving.
The car that hit Rasmussen was also rear-ended, hit so violently it bounced off Rasmussen’s vehicle and into a ditch next to the road.
“It was an individual in a landscaping truck,” said Rasmussen, who refused paramedic help and continued on despite some soreness. “I still made the high school game.”
Not that the incident won’t find its way into the living rooms of potential Cougars.
“That’s something you could potentially throw out that, even though we were in an accident, it was still important enough for me to get out there and have an opportunity to seem them play,” Rasmussen said, noting that the accident is just another blow struck this year.
“We’ve just got to get it turned around and have some good fortune. That comes down on us. We’ve got to make our own luck.”
For the second game in a row, Reid Forrest has been one of the busiest players on the field.
The WSU punter kicked nine times – he punted 10 times at Oregon State – and averaged 45.6 yards a punt.
Those were key numbers for a team trying to run clock and play field position.
“Controlling the field is huge, especially when you’re trying to control the clock as well,” Forrest said.
If Forrest had his way, he would never punt at all. But that’s been impossible in a season that has seen the Cougars give up more than 63 points four times in Pac-10 play – and having been outscored 292-33 in those games.
“I hate losing,” Forrest said. “I’m a competitor, too, as much as (anyone). Nobody goes out to play to lose. So it’s difficult when it happens like that.”