In a game with one WSU touchdown, it should always be the choice. It is, but it came in the third quarter with WSU trailing 29-0. The Cougars had moved from their 20 past midfield for the first time in the game, but faced a third-and-7 from the 46. Senior quarterback Kevin Lopina, in relief of starter Marshall Lobbestael, decided to take a shot deep against the UCLA zone. Jeffrey Solomon raced down the left sideline, safety Rahim Moore took a bad angle at the ball and Solomon gathered it in a couple of yards behind the defense. The 46-yard score accounted for more than 25 percent of WSU’s total offense.
Trying to avoid a slow start, WSU won the toss and took the ball. Two plays gained a little more than 9 yards, leaving the Cougars facing a third-and-1 at their 29. Lobbestael, seeing UCLA in man coverage, changed the play at the line, switching from a run to a pass. Akeem Ayers intercepted a pass and UCLA had the first break.
Pat on the back
Though he hasn’t played in months, Lopina relieved Lobbestael and brought the Cougars a little spark. Though his pass statistics were nothing special – 7 of 14 for 102 yards and the one touchdown – Lopina at least supplied a couple of highlights.
The Cougars are 1-9. There are a lot of things that need fixing, most of which have been discussed here throughout the season. They include a talent gap, which results in a lack of depth, speed and playmakers. But, with two games left, there is one aspect of the game WSU can control: how hard it plays. The Cougars need to continue to play with passion no matter what the next eight quarters bring.
Three unanswered questions
• How long will Jeff Tuel be out? The Cougars’ loss Saturday underscored how much they need the freshman quarterback’s abilities. But they also need a healthy Tuel to lead offseason workouts. If the 18-year-old needs two more weeks to heal properly, he needs to take them.
• What will the crowd be like this week? Two years ago Oregon State came to Pullman the week before the Apple Cup – and Thanksgiving break. The crowd was sparse at the start (22,660), but following halftime, driven from their seats by a soaking rain and a 31-3 Cougar deficit, it was nearly non-existent. There’s a chance things could be similar.
• Who will be back? Besides Tuel, tight end Tony Thompson (concussion), safety Chima Nwachukwu (ankle) and kicker Nico Grasu (quadriceps) – all upperclassman starters – were also on the disabled list last weekend. Coach Paul Wulff sounded pessimistic Sunday that any could return this week.