CORVALLIS, Ore. – It’s almost impossible to conceive how much Washington State’s 31-14 upset win Saturday against Oregon State washed away.
A 16-game Pac-10 losing streak, longest in school history. Gone.
Almost three years of not winning a road game. Gone.
A three-game losing streak in the series by an average score of 53-13. Gone.
The weight of a fat monkey. Gone … wait, what?
“It was like a fat monkey was lifted off my back,” senior running back Chantz Staden said after the Cougars dominated Oregon State in front of 45,389 at a windswept Reser Stadium.
Staden was smiling, basking in Washington State’s first conference win since the Apple Cup almost two years ago and his first touchdown in even longer, this one the game-clincher from 5 yards out with 2 minutes left.
And he was not alone in his joy.
“It just feels excellent,” said freshman middle linebacker C.J. Mizell, who set the tone with, of all things, a penalty. “It’s awesome. It’s like you’re on top of the world.”
“It’s so nice to finally be successful, with your family and your teammates,” said receiver Jared Karstetter, who caught four Jeff Tuel passes for 46 yards in only the fifth win in his three years at WSU. “It just a real emotional win for us.”
Emotional, yes. Unforeseen, yes, as the Cougars were more than a three-touchdown underdog. But mainly it was just plain shocking, especially if you consider how it happened.
Washington State, the Pac-10’s rushing doormats on offense – averaging 76.1 yards a game coming in – and defense – giving up 223.1 – ran all over the Beavers.
On the offensive side, WSU (2-9, 1-7 Pac-10) rushed for 221 yards, the most in coach Paul Wulff’s three-year tenure.
It was Tuel setting the tone, running for a career-high 79 yards on 18 carries, some of it on designed plays, much of it on scrambles, taking advantage of an OSU (4-5, 3-3) secondary locked up on receivers.
“Coach (Todd) Sturdy gave me the green light to run a little more, so I was just taking what they gave me,” said Tuel, who started running more in the loss to California last week. “If stuff wasn’t open, I looked down, saw places to run and just took them.”
“I always tell them, the quarterbacks, you can make big plays with your arm obviously, but you can make big plays that really hurt with your feet,” said Sturdy, WSU’s offensive coordinator. “Critical plays that keep drives alive, keep the offense on the football field.”
And that’s what Tuel did. The Cougars converted 11 of 18 third- or fourth-down opportunities and the sophomore quarterback had eight of them – three passing and five running.
On the first scoring drive, which covered 52 yards, Tuel ran 17 yards on a third-and-1 to put WSU at the OSU 1 to end a scoreless first quarter. Two plays later, Logwone Mitz powered in and WSU led 7-0.
On the second scoring drive, WSU’s next possession, Tuel scrambled for 19 yards on a third-and-11. Another 8-yard scramble set up James Montgomery’s 1-yard scoring run that gave the Cougars a 14-0 halftime lead, the biggest edge in Pac-10 play during Wulff’s tenure.
“I call (Tuel) ‘the white Vick,’ ” Mizell said, smiling. “You know what I’m sayin’? When Tuel’s on his game, our offense is awesome.”
When WSU raised the lead to 21-0 out of halftime, Tuel scrambled for a first down on third-and-5, converted a third-and-4 with a 6-yard pass to Karstetter and then put WSU in the end zone with a fake option run that turned into a 33-yard scoring pass to Marquess Wilson.
That was on first-and-20.
Finally, when Oregon State had finally cracked the Cougars’ defense for a score, Tuel led WSU on an 8-minute, 20-second drive that resulted in a 37-yard Andrew Furney field goal.
The two big plays? A 6-yard Tuel scramble and a 16-yard pass to Karstetter. Both on third down.
“Jeff’s going to make plays regardless, whatever the coaches tell him to do,” center Zack Williams said. “He’s just a playmaker.”
But the defense didn’t need all the points. They were running all over the Beavers on their own.
“I’ve been saying this all year long, we need our defensive line to make tackles, instead of allowing your safeties to do it all the time,” Wulff said. “They did that today.”
Yes they did, led by the unlikeliest hero, senior Casey Hamlett. A refugee from Western Washington when the football program was dropped two years ago, Hamlett had the Cougars’ first sack, killing the Beavers’ opening drive and forcing a punt.
He also had a second sack, joining Brandon Rankin with a pair. Add in Travis Long’s one with four other tackles for loss and the Cougars’ front was too active for OSU to handle.
So was Mizell, who was called for a personal foul when he drove Jaquizz Rodgers 5 yards out of bounds and drove him to the ground on the first play from scrimmage.
“I was just trying to set the tone for the defense,” Mizell said, and it seemed to work.
WSU limited Rodgers to 93 yards on 15 carries – one a tackle-breaking 28-yard run – and OSU to 97 yards on the ground.
With the offense dominating the ball – WSU had a 20-minute edge in time of possession – Oregon State only ran 48 plays and gained just 261 yards of total offense – the fewest in the Wulff era against a Pac-10 foe. The Cougars also forced three turnovers – including OSU’s first two fumbles of the season.
“I thought we were very physical,” Wulff said. “We set the tempo for the football game. That’s how we want to be at Washington State, tough, hard-nosed, throw the first punch.”
And knock that fat monkey off their backs.