TUCSON, Ariz. – Just when it looked like it couldn’t get any worse for Washington State University, it did.
In a lot of different ways.
The most pronounced, of course, took the form of the Cougars’ 48-7 loss to Arizona.
The defeat, dropping WSU to 1-8 and 0-6 in the Pac-10, came on Saturday before a sun-drenched crowd of 50,242, many of whom left after UA built a 34-0 halftime lead.
The most damaging setback for WSU, however, might be the injury sustained by freshman starting quarterback Jeff Tuel in the second quarter.
Sacked by linebacker Xavier Kelley while trying to scramble, Tuel suffered a subluxation (a slight dislocation) of his kneecap and did not return. His status will be determined after the team’s return to Pullman, but Tuel did say he felt fine as he hobbled off the field on crutches.
“It’s not serious, which is good,” said WSU coach Paul Wulff, ruling out a tear or something of that nature. “I mean, how long it will be, we don’t know.”
But by the time of Tuel’s injury, the outcome was known.
Heck, it might have been known following the opening kickoff.
“They blocked us, we couldn’t get off blocks and run him down,” Wulff said of Travis Cobb’s 95-yard scoring return.
“We told them they were going to have a field return, we told them this is what we anticipate, we’re going to kick it to the corner and (they’ll) bring it back to the field,” Wulff said. … They did exactly that and we didn’t get off blocks and make the play.”
Thirteen seconds in, WSU trailed 7-0.
But that’s not unusual. The Cougars have trailed in all nine games this season, and last led in regulation a year ago today, when Dwight Tardy scored on the opening drive against UA. This time it was the Wildcats’ turn.
“They opened up with that kickoff, and it’s hard to open the game when you’re down seven,” said Andy Mattingly, who had 11 tackles despite playing on a sore right knee. “And then when you are on the field that long – I think they ran like 70 or 80 plays – we just got tired.”
The 21st-ranked Wildcats (6-2, 4-1 Pac-10, tied in the loss column with Oregon atop the conference standings) actually ran 78. They never punted and scored the first seven times they had the ball.
“They had long drives and we couldn’t get off the field,” Mattingly said. “They made plays. We didn’t.”
The Wildcats made plays on the ground – 294 rushing yards, 91 of them by second-string quarterback Matt Scott – and through the air – 177 passing yards, with starter Nick Foles hitting 12 of 19 throws, operating behind a line that has yielded only four sacks all season.
“(Our) offense today was a little weird,” an obviously hard-to-please Arizona coach Mike Stoops said. “I didn’t see us get a great rhythm today.”
The Cougars’ best drive of the game was also their worst.
Starting from its 9, WSU ground out play after play, moving the ball down the field methodically behind an all-true-freshman backfield.
Carl Winston carried the ball. Jeff Tuel handed it to him. Jarred Byers blocked. After six plays the ball was at the 33.
Tardy, who finished with 44 yards and moved into eighth place on WSU’s career rushing list, took it from there, bursting through the middle for 37 yards to the Arizona 21. A personal foul moved the ball back to the 36.
It was temporary setback. Two passes, a run and a face-mask penalty put the ball at the Arizona 9. But a holding call moved the ball back to the 19.
That’s when Tuel scrambled, tried to make a play and went down. He was 5 of 10 for 23 yards passing and had been sacked four times.
“When you see one of your friends go down like that, it’s a crappy feeling,” said backup Marshall Lobbestael. “At the same time, you have to prepare yourself to be the No. 2 guy.”
Lobbestael completed 7 of 11 passes for 103 yards, 64 of them coming on the Cougars’ lone score.
Trailing 48-0, Lobbestael found Jared Karstetter down the numbers on the right side. The sophomore was able to avoid Mike Turner, grab the ball with one hand, and sprint in the last 40 yards for the score.