Was it either of the two interception returns for touchdowns? Was it Jared Karstetter’s 33-yard, tip-to-himself catch that gave WSU hope near the end of the first half? Was it Nico Grasu’s game-ending field goal? We vote for a simpler, shorter play, the 7-yard scoring pass from Marshall Lobestael to Karstetter that tied the score with 28 seconds left. The play called wasn’t one the Cougars prepped for the game plan, but one they had practiced numerous times on their own over the summer. If they hadn’t, they might not have won.
After a Reid Forrest punt had pinned the Mustangs at their 7-yard line, SMU marched out to midfield with a series of short passes. On first-and-10 from the WSU 49, Bo Levi Mitchell found Emmanuel Sanders for the biggest of his 18 catches. The 45-yard high-arching completion came at the expense of Eric Block, who suffered an arm injury on the bomb, and set the Mustangs up at the 4. Zach Line powered in on the next play, despite the Cougars having 12 men on the field. It was 17-0, a little over 8 minutes remained before half and the outlook was bleak.
Pat on the back
Fifth-year senior Jason Stripling’s Washington State career hasn’t been what he dreamed of when he came to Pullman from Tyler, Texas. Years lost to injuries and academics meant Stripling was an afterthought going into his final season. But from the first day this fall, Strip, as his teammates call him, showed he belonged on the field. This week those same teammates voted him captain. And he responded, leading the way with nine tackles, including seven solo and one for a loss, playing almost every one of WSU’s 84 plays on defense.
Even though the defense has given up 1,130 yards of total offense the past two weeks, getting the offensive line right this week will be even more important. The Cougars won’t have their two horses in the middle, guards Zack Williams and B.J. Guerra. The group WSU puts on the Coliseum turf Saturday will have to pass protect as well as it did during the last drive versus SMU and run block much better than it did at any time. If it doesn’t, WSU won’t be able to keep its defense off the field.
Three unanswered questions
• Which quarterback is Lobbestael? There were two Lobbestaels on the field Saturday. There was the one who played most of the game and there was the one who showed up as time was running down. In the final drive of the first half and the game-tying drive to end regulation, Lobbestael was 10 of 14 for 113 yards and two touchdowns. The rest of the game he was 14 of 38 for 126 yards and two interceptions. The time-winding-down quarterback is the one WSU needs all game.
• Can the defense quickly switch to stopping the run? The past two weeks, WSU has played a lot of nickel and 3-3-5 schemes to control the run-and-shoot offenses of Hawaii and SMU. Now they face the challenge of the best offensive line in the Pac-10. Even in defeat Saturday the Trojans ran for 250 yards. They did lose two fumbles, and those turnovers helped Washington control the game. WSU had better be ready to do the same thing.
• How ticked off will USC be? After losing to Oregon State on the road to open the Pac-10 season last year, the Trojans went back to Los Angeles and pounded a pretty darn good Oregon team 44-10. Which doesn’t bode well for the Cougars, who probably shouldn’t be considered in the same category as the Ducks last season. WSU had better be ready for USC’s best effort.