There can be only one choice. Trailing 27-7, the Cougars were backed up against their end zone, with the ball barely outside the goal line. Facing a second-and-14, the ASU defense was sure Washington State was going to run, trying to eke out enough room for Reid Forrest to punt again. That strategy left junior Johnny Forzani in single coverage on the left side. He took off, Jeff Tuel lofted the ball to his outside shoulder, Forzani won the battle with Josh Jordan, stayed upright and took off. The 99-yard TD pass can be equaled but it will always be WSU’s longest play from scrimmage.
Trailing 7-0 midway through the second quarter, WSU took over at its 20. Helped by a couple of major penalties on ASU, the Cougars moved down to the Sun Devils 34 where they faced a fourth-and-4 with a little over 2 minutes left before halftime. Too far for a field goal and too close to punt, WSU took time out and decided to try to keep the drive alive. Marshall Lobbestael, in for Tuel, looked over the middle and found Daniel Blackledge for a first down. As Blackledge tried for more yards, however, Jamarr Robinson knocked the ball loose and Ryan McFoy covered it. Nine plays and less than 2 minutes later, ASU had scored again.
A pat on the back
The defensive line is young – three freshmen, Dan Spitz, Travis Long and Tony Laurenzi, started Saturday – and inexperienced – senior Jesse Feagin and junior Casey Hamlett haven’t played much at this level. Among the group that’s healthy, only Toby Turpin could be considered a veteran. Still, this unit held its own with Arizona State’s physical, if underperforming, offensive line. Take out Kyle Williams’ 53-yard reverse and the Cougars put together one if their better run-stop efforts of the season.
We’ve been here before, but the single biggest area that is holding WSU back is up front on the offensive line. Now senior mainstay Kenny Alfred has suffered a cut on his leg and will have to rest the injury for a while. However, it’s quite possible Alfred, Zack Williams, B.J. Guerra and Steven Ayers, all starters, could be back for Cal in two weeks. But how mobile and effective will they be? Unless they can find the form they displayed in spurts against Stanford, the WSU offense will sputter – no matter who is playing quarterback.
Three unanswered questions
• Will Jeff Tuel get gun shy? Arizona State’s rush was so relentless, Tuel began to look like, well, a true freshman. So offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy pulled him for a while, letting him see the game from another angle. When he returned, he played better – 6 of 10 for 153 yards and two touchdowns – though he was sacked another six times.
• Not to sound crass, but what’s next? When Wulff was told Saturday after the game defensive back Daniel Simmons had fractured a bone in his leg, his facial expression was one part sympathy and one part disgust. At least eight players who were counted on to help in a great degree this season will not play again until 2010.
• How important is the bye? When asked Saturday if the bye week was the most important week of the season, Sturdy answered succinctly. “Yes,” he said, and he’s right. The injuries have piled up to such a degree certain areas are having trouble competing. No amount of time will bring back James Montgomery or Josh Luapo this season, but others, from the offensive linemen to linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, can use the time to heal and get ready to go for the last half of the season.