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Looking back: Notre Dame 40, WSU 14

High point

Considering the circumstances, the Cougars’ first touchdown drive may have been their most efficient of the season. Playing against the same Notre Dame defense that had held them to two first downs over most of two quarters, WSU marched from its 33 – after another of Dwight Tardy’s strong kickoff returns – in seven plays. Tardy got it going with a 20-yard run, Logwone Mitz followed with 12 more, Jeff Tuel converted their first third down in six tries and WSU had a second-and-5 at the 11-yard line. Jared Karstetter lined up on the right facing Robert Blanton. Tuel lifted up, tossed the ball to Karstetter’s outside shoulder and the 6-foot-4 sophomore went up and got it over the 6-1 Blanton. It was 23-7. Halftime was only a little over a minute away. …

Low point

… That was enough time for Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate. Clausen had to overcome a couple of big penalties with sharp sideline passes, but Notre Dame still was 50 yards away with 7 seconds left. Clausen dropped back, rolled right and launched the ball toward Tate and the right side of the end zone. Xavier Hicks, Myron Beck and Aire Justin were all in position, but it was the 5-11 Tate who rose above everyone, got two hands on the ball and out-muscled the Cougars. The jaw-dropping catch killed the Cougars’ momentum, energized the crowd and secured a victory.

Pat on the back

They were stuck in a corner of the Alamodome, as outnumbered, it seemed, as Jim Travis’ men against Santa Anna’s hordes 173 years ago. But the Cougar fans made their voices heard – right from the start. The crimson group began a “Go Cougs” chant in a quiet interlude before kickoff and kept it up until the Irish faithful figured out what was happening and drowned them out. But they kept their voices up even as the game got out of hand. It’s little wonder both WSU touchdowns came in the end zone on their fans’ end.

Needs fixing

Here are the second downs Washington State faced on its first four drives: Second-and-20, second-and-5, second-and-19 and, after its initial first down, second-and-21. In other words, execution on first down was nowhere to be found. Without a ground game – the Cougars only ran the ball well on two drives, and scored on both – it’s hard to get favorable second- and third-down situations.

Three unanswered questions

• How tough will it be in the desert next week? Three consecutive road games are tough even on veteran teams. Of course, WSU isn’t a veteran team. And there’s the opponent. The Arizona Wildcats are one of the best teams in the Pac-10 when they are hitting on all cylinders. After a bye week, they’ll probably be humming, not sputtering.

• Are the players getting discouraged? Taking the temperature of players on a losing team after another loss is always a struggle. It’s better done on a daily basis. That being said, the Cougars were still unfailingly committed after the defeat, as they have been in practice.

• Is there a win on the horizon? It seems like everyone in Cougar Nation is pointing toward the UCLA game in two weeks as the best chance. Yes, there could be a good case made for that game, none less important than the Bruins rarely seem to play well in Pullman, especially when it’s cold.

Vince Grippi

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