PULLMAN – It had been a long time since Washington State had taken an opening kickoff and marched to a score. Two years and five days, in fact.
But that’s exactly what the Cougars did Saturday, though it was mostly an afterthought following the 50-16 drubbing by USC at Martin Stadium.
The opening march took eight not-so-unusual plays to eat up the first 51 yards and one of the tricky variety to cover the final 29. Slot receiver Jeffery Solomon, a quarterback at Seattle’s Ingraham High, took a pitch on a reverse and ran right.
Jared Karstetter was running down the seam, with USC cornerback Nickell Robey running behind him.
Solomon stopped, planted and let fly a toss toward the end zone.
Karstetter walled off Robey, went up, grabbed it and landed with his third touchdown of the year, and a Cougars lead.
“It felt good, not just for me but for the team,” Solomon said. “That was the first time we’ve scored on an opening drive. The energy boost the morale, the fans got into it – it was all good.”
“It was a good ball,” said Karstetter, a Ferris graduate who had a career-high eight catches for 87 yards. “I was surprised he threw it because I knew whoever was running the wheel (route), I think it was Daniel (Blackledge) had to have been wide open because the corner was running with me.”
The Cougars came out in a four-wide-out, spread formation, and ran a no-huddle look the entire game. With it, WSU attacked continually and moved down the field with impunity in the first half, only to be done in by three interceptions.
“We felt that was the plan we needed to do to win this game,” said offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy. “We were aggressive. We planned on being aggressive. We put it on our O-line to protect and put it on our skill guys to make plays.”
Both did, but Sturdy wouldn’t commit to using the same formation exclusively in the future.
“Philosophically, we’ve got to take the players we have and execute a game plan we feel we can execute to win,” he said.
Whether WSU stays with the spread look or not, Tuel likes it.
“That’s always a blast at the quarterback position,” he said. “You get to throw it a lot more, open them up, and that’s fun.
“You spread them out and create bigger holes to throw in to. … I like the spread.”
And so does the offensive line.
“It puts a lot of pressure on us,” said guard B.J. Guerra, “and that’s OK. We all want it.”
The Cougars even used a pistol-like formation – with the running back behind the quarterback instead of next to him as in the shotgun – much of the game.
The turning point of the game, if a 50-16 game can have a turning point, came on WSU’s second possession.
Coming off a productive first drive, Tuel tried to hit Marquess Wilson on a quick out on second down. But Robey stepped in a returned the interception for a back-breaking score.
Tuel said it was a learning experience.
“It’s one of those things I don’t see myself doing again,” he said.
Offensive line fought to protect Tuel
Though Tuel was sacked three times – that’s 13 for the season – he felt the offensive line pass protected well.
“That’s the best it’s been all year,” he said. “They were really consistent. They gave up one or two but every team does that. I was able to step up in the pocket, there was a pocket to throw into to, which makes a big difference.”
The run blocking was not as effective, with the Cougars averaging 3.6 yards a carry on their 23 running plays.
Unorthodox kick misses mark
After WSU took the 7-0 first-quarter lead, head coach Paul Wulff decided to go with a pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff. It didn’t work.
Nico Grasu’s kick was batted out of bounds by Michael Morgan and USC was in business at its 41.
“The thinking was they have three linemen in the back,” Wulff explained. “We worked all week to pooch it, to try to get it down there to the 30-, 25-yard line. They have a 300-pound lineman standing there wasn’t going to field the ball.”
“And then we kick it 15 yards,” he said disgustedly.