TUCSON, Ariz. – It’s been exactly a year since Washington State University led during regulation time of a football game.
The Cougars’ one win this season – 30-27 over SMU – was the result of Nico Grasu’s 39-yard overtime field goal. They hadn’t led in that game until Grasu’s kick passed through the uprights.
Last season, they led Washington in the first overtime on a Grasu kick, and won it in the second, again on a Grasu field goal.
The last time seconds ticked off the clock with WSU in the lead was Nov. 8, 2008, when Dwight Tardy scored on the opening drive against the Arizona Wildcats.
Saturday, the deficit building took just 13 seconds, with Travis Cobb’s 95-yard return of the opening kickoff putting UA up 7-0 en route to a 48-7 victory.
Senior linebacker Andy Mattingly remembers what it feels like to play with a lead.
“When you have the lead, it’s easy for (the defense) to go out there and feel confident, and then just go out and make plays,” Mattingly said. “But when you are down, you start worrying about people making plays and it just goes downhill.”
Jared Karstetter, who teamed with quarterback Marshall Lobbestael for the Cougars’ lone score, a fourth-quarter 64-yard pass, thinks playing from behind isn’t any harder.
“It’s deceiving to think you have to play from the lead,” Karstetter said. “Whenever we start driving, we’re fine. It’s when we start getting in those three-and-out modes, that things don’t go well.”
The Cougars (1-8, 0-6 Pac-10) opened the game with four three-and-outs (the last one ended in a fumble), had a 12-play drive, then had four more three-and-outs.
Injuries continue to mount
The injury list grew once again, leaving the Cougars with just two healthy safeties for the second half.
Jay Matthews, playing in the place of usual starter Chima Nwachukwu (sprained ankle), re-injured his left shoulder. It’s the same shoulder that required offseason surgery. His status is unknown.
Kyle McCartney, a backup safety and special-teams player who was the captain last week, broke his right fibula and is out for the season. It is the third broken leg suffered by a Cougars’ secondary member this season.
“Never,” Wulff answered when asked if he had ever seen so many broken legs. “All of them are freshmen. … You play young guys and they physically don’t match with their opponents, you’re going to have issues.”
Quarterback Jeff Tuel missed the second half with a subluxation of his right knee and offensive tackle Tyson Pencer missed the last three quarters after reaggravating his left ankle sprain. Their status will be determined this week.
Grasu was also not available after straining his right quadriceps muscle kicking Thursday.
Arizona piled up yards
Though coach Mike Stoops never felt his team got into rhythm, the Pac-10’s leading offense put up 471 yards of total offense.
The attack, with usual starting running back Nic Grigsby out with a shoulder problem, had 294 rushing yards, with four players posting 50 or more.
Nick Foles wasn’t one of them, but the starting quarterback ran around behind the line of scrimmage often enough. He bought time with his feet and riddled WSU’s secondary for 136 yards on 12-of-19 passing.
“Nick Foles is really, really good,” Wulff said of the sophomore who didn’t start until UA’s fourth game. “He was so accurate and poised.”
Mainly because he had as much as 10 seconds to throw.
“Coming into the game we knew it was going to be tough to get to him,” Mattingly said. “I think they are (tied for first) in sacks allowed in the country.
“When you give them that much time, every quarterback is going to be good.”
WSU, which has just nine sacks, had none Saturday.
But Foles also had 6-foot-4 Delashaun Dean and 6-2 Terrel Turner as targets.
Dean had four catches – tying WSU’s Gino Simone for game-high honors – including a 30-yard drag route in which he outran safety Myron Beck.
Turner matched up with 5-9 cornerback Brandon Jones early, going up to catch the Wildcats’ (6-2, 4-1) first touchdown pass despite Jones in good coverage.
Arizona Stadium seats 57,400 and is usually pretty close to full. But it is starting to show its age, and a move is afoot by athletic director Jim Livengood to expand and upgrade the stadium.
The expansion won’t add a lot of seats, but is slated to include a football-only building on the north side of the stadium. The football offices are in McKale Center, along with all Arizona sports.
The building would include all the now-usual amenities like offices, weight room and locker rooms for the football team.
The upgrades would be centered around the concourses, restrooms and other ancillary facilities, similar to what Washington State has done at Martin Stadium.
Other parts of the project include a new scoreboard and lighting, renovation of the practice facility and luxury seating upgrades.
Fundraising is under way with Arizona alums Jeff and Sharon Stevens pledging $10 million Thursday. The expansion project is expected to cost $82 million.
The Arizona Board of Regents will be asked to approve the project in January.