STILLWATER, Okla. – Oklahoma State just doesn’t seem the right place for Washington State freshmen.
Back in 2004, then-basketball coach Dick Bennett brought his freshman-dominated team here for a nonconference game. At halftime they trailed the No. 6 Cowboys 36-10, finally losing 81-29. It was the worst defeat in the career of Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low, Robbie Cowgill and the rest of a group that would make two NCAA tournament appearances.
The football equivalent came Saturday in the Cougars’ 65-17 loss to the Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium, right next door to the basketball defeat.
Washington State played seven true freshmen, including one, Rickey Galvin, who had four plays and one carry before breaking his right arm. He’ll be lost for the season.
The rest had varying degrees of success.
Marquess Wilson became only the fourth WSU freshman since 1979 to have more than 100 receiving yards as he finished with 108 on four catches. Linebacker C.J. Mizell came on late and had four tackles, including two bone-jarring ones. And safety Deone Buccannon added three tackles.
But they weren’t the only players on the big stage for the first time. And it showed.
With nine redshirt freshmen and four junior-college transfers debuting before 48,962 mostly orange-clad fans, the Cougars made more than a few mistakes.
“The little stuff kills you,” said cornerback Nolan Washington, one of the redshirt freshmen. “We’re a young team and you try to keep your head up, to do certain things, but it’s hard. We have to learn how to win.”
So how do you do that?
“You learn that by going through it,” Washington said. “My first time, my first college game, and I’m playing on the road, Oklahoma State, that’s how you learn. You get thrown into the fire and I got burned. You’re going to get burned sometimes.”
Galvin’s broken right arm came on his first carry, a run around the left side for 2 yards about 5 minutes in. As he was falling, Galvin put the arm out to brace his fall. It snapped.
“He’s sitting right there on the sideline, and whenever they have to take somebody off in an air cast right in front of your sideline, that’s not an easy thing,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said.
Galvin’s injury was the worst – Wulff said it will cost him the season – but not the only one. Receiver Jared Karstetter was belted by linebacker Orie Lemon late in the first quarter and suffered a concussion and some sore ribs. He did not return.
Neither did fullback Jared Byers, who suffered a left knee sprain. He left the stadium on crutches. Special-teams standout Jamal Atofau pulled his hamstring on his first play and did not come back.
Starting wide receiver Gino Simone didn’t play due to a hamstring injury.
Boom – and bust
Place-kicker Nico Grasu was asked to do the extraordinary – twice – as the Cougars tried to claw their way back from an early 17-0 deficit.
It was the second quarter before WSU even sniffed the red zone – and it wasn’t a very strong scent. A drive had stalled out on the Cowboys’ 39-yard line, so Grasu trotted out to try a career-long 56-yard field goal – which cleared the crossbar with plenty to spare. It was 9 yards farther than his WSU best, and the sixth longest in school history.
“You want to take every kick like it’s the same kick, whether it’s a PAT or a 56-yarder,” he said. “You have to have that consistency – but you never really expect that your first kick (of a game) is going to be a 56-yarder.”
Later in the quarter, trailing 24-10, the Cougars again drove to the same vicinity, facing fourth-and-5 at the OSU 37. This time Wulff called for a fake. Quarterback and holder Jeff Tuel pitched to Grasu on an option run left, but defensive end Richetti Jones got there in time to keep Grasu inches short of a first down.
“I thought if we could get another score and make it 24-17, that would be a huge boost for us,” Wulff said.
And Grasu still believes he made it to the marker.
“My hands did, but the referee didn’t think so,” he said.
D for disappointment
Of all the many shortcomings and hurts the Cougars took from this game, no disappointment was as big as the play of the defense – particularly the defensive front seven, which surrendered 291 yards rushing, 257 by Kendall Hunter – and generated no real pass rush.
“We were horrible,” Wulff said. “We were absolutely terrible and we worked on it all camp a tremendous amount. It seemed like we didn’t get off blocks very well all day, particularly the defensive line.”
Added defensive coordinator Chris Ball, “Apparently we didn’t do enough tackling and working on getting off blocks in camp – and that’s our fault.”
Hunter is the whole package – quick, elusive and strong enough to break tackles – but the Cougars made him look all-world. He averaged a ridiculous 12.2 yards per carry.