Jason Stripling has played college football for five years. As a linebacker who played his high school football in Texas and college in the Pac-10, he’s accustomed to seeing big guys on the offensive line.
But what he saw Saturday in the Alamodome was of a different level.
The Notre Dame offensive line was so big, so physical, the 5-foot-11, 242-pound Stripling had to search for the right word to describe them following Washington State’s 40-14 loss Saturday night.
“They had a pretty big line,” Stripling finally said. “They had some monuments up front.”
Yes, monuments. Monuments to a Notre Dame tradition of dominating offensive lines. And monuments to success.
“Even their backs were more physical,” WSU coach Paul Wulff marveled. “We couldn’t bring them down.
“It surprised me a little bit. They were more physical than we thought.”
On both sides of the ball.
Though the Irish (6-2) offense ground out 255 yards rushing and added another 337 through the air, it was defense that really threw its size around. They attacked from every spot, overpowering and disrupting Washington State’s youthful offense.
And, at times, freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel.
“I thought early on he got a little flustered, but we didn’t block very well,” Wulff said of Tuel’s 12-of-23 passing performance. “And we didn’t give him a chance to get into any rhythm. It’s hard to gauge it when he got hit a few times early.
“It seemed like even when he got rid of the ball he was getting hit.”
On Tuel’s first eight attempts, he was sacked twice and hit another three times.
“There’s no question it has an affect,” Wulff said.
“Maybe a little at times,” said Tuel, who had two interceptions to go with two touchdown passes. “But mostly it was just a lack of execution.”
Besides, Tuel said, it comes with the position.
“It’s just going to happen sometimes,” he said. “I’m going to take my lickings. That’s just how it goes.”
The physical defense forced WSU’s kids – the Cougars started five freshman or sophomores on offense – out of their comfort zone and frustrating them.
“We played young on offense,” Wulff said. “This was the day it showed up.”
“We just didn’t have a lot of time,” said sophomore receiver Jared Karstetter, who caught both scores. “It was frustrating as an offense. As wideouts we didn’t block sometimes (on runs) and sometimes we didn’t get enough time to run our routes.”
Despite what Wulff termed “a clear, clear disadvantage,” in size, the second-year coach felt the Cougars (1-7) gave everything they had. Especially on defense, which was also hampered by Notre Dame’s ability to hold the ball – the Irish had 40 minutes, 54 seconds of possession.
“I thought the guys played hard,” Wulff said. “The defense was on the field too long because we couldn’t establish consistency on offense. That aided their run game.”