STANFORD, Calif. – Travis Long emerged from the locker room Saturday evening, moving slowly. The sophomore defensive end had a good reason.
“That was one of the most physical games I’ve ever been a part of,” Long said after the Cougars’ 38-28 loss to Stanford on a Homecoming Saturday on The Farm. “We knew it was going to be like that, though.”
Stanford, under coach Jim Harbaugh, takes pride in physical play. Washington State does too and began emphasizing it even more a few weeks ago.
The result for the Cougars?
“It’s a huge difference,” said senior Kevin Kooyman. “Since we’ve emphasized playing physical, getting after them, it’s almost night and day.
“It seemed like we were kind of hesitant in the beginning of the season, letting the blockers get to us. We’re focusing in practices and games. Everything we do is just physical.”
Though they still had trouble containing Stanford’s running game, powered by an offensive line with three fifth-year seniors. The Cardinal ran for 249 yards, nearly 40 above their average, but finished more than 30 yards under their total-offense average and 5.3 points under their usual total.
“They are the toughest teams we’ve faced, physically, of the offensive lines,” Kooyman said.
“They just came out with low pads, got a lot of double teams on our 3-technique (tackle Brandon Rankin), at me at some times,” Long said. “Some old-fashioned football I guess.”
And that’s what WSU wants to play, at least on defense.
“During practice we’re taking tackling a lot more seriously, we’re getting more physical,” said safety Deone Bucannon. “That’s leading us to even better play on game day.”
Bucannon stands out
Bucannon did something no freshman has done since Greg Trent five years ago. With a game-high 15 tackles, he’s had back-to-back games with double-digit tackles after 16 against Arizona.
The freshman, who has been starting since senior Chima Nwachukwu has been out with a hamstring pull, deflected any praise, saying the WSU defensive scheme was designed to funnel running backs to him and the weakside linebackers (Alex Hoffman-Ellis had seven tackles).
Plus, he wanted to talk about three tackles he didn’t make on the Cardinal’s final scoring drive.
“I was really mad,” he said. “That led to the last score. That really hit me deep. I was mad. That was unexplainable.”
Maybe there is one explanation though. The Cardinal had a 15-minute, 42-second time of possession edge over WSU and the defense had to deal with 75 plays.
No end in sight
Many Cougars were wearing T-shirts that read “No end in sight” as they left the locker room.
Tuel said the shirts came courtesy of baseball coach Donnie Marbut and represented the idea there is no end to the game, just a fight until it’s over.
“It’s a really cool deal, really cool deal,” Tuel said.
So is his connection with freshman Marquess Wilson, who caught six passes for 150 yards – 74 coming on a late fourth-quarter score.
“The connection (has been) there since the summer,” Wilson said. “We practiced the deep routes (and) that’s just our main route right now. (It) seems to be open every time.”
But Wilson wasn’t open much early – he had just two catches for 26 yards through three quarters – as Stanford concentrated the defense his way.
“It was more of the coverage they were in, rather than favoring Marquess a little bit,” said Tuel, who took advantage to find Jared Karstetter nine times for 101 yards, the first time in three years WSU has had two receivers go over 100 yards in the same game.
“I think every team in the Pac-10 knows they have to keep their eyes on No. 86.”
The Cougars, missing at least two starters due to injuries coming in, were bit again Saturday, though for how long is unsure.
Cornerback Anthony Simmons suffered a concussion and couldn’t finish. The other starting corner, Nolan Washington, hurt a hand that will need X-rays when WSU returns to Pullman. And freshman special teams player and reserve linebacker Eric Oertel suffered a hamstring strain, something he’s been battling much of the year.
For Stanford, wide receiver and kick returner Chris Owusu suited up but did not play. Starting safety Delano Howell, who had his wrist and hand in a soft cast this week, did not suit up.