PULLMAN – All week at practice, Washington State’s defensive coaches tried to imitate the abilities of Stanford’s tight ends.
They used bigger guys, faster guys. But nothing prepared the Cougars for Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.
“Not as good as they are,” answered defensive coordinator Chris Ball when asked if he’s seen a better group of tight ends. “They’ve got a great system. It’s difficult because they’ve got the run game with it, they can spread you out and they’ve got the guy to throw it.”
With Andrew Luck at the controls, the Stanford offense dominated the second half in its 44-14 win before 30,843 at Martin Stadium. But if Luck was the trigger, the three tight ends were the bullets.
Fleener, the 6-foot-6 starter, caught four passes for a game-high 128 yards, including a 62-yarder early in the third quarter that got the Stanford offense going.
“That was my man. He’s not a fast guy, he’s not going to outrun me, but he definitely outphysicaled me on that play,” cornerback Daniel Simmons said of the play.
The 6-6 Ertz caught five balls, four of them for first downs. And the 6-8 Toilolo caught two passes, the first for a 10-yard score that put Stanford up 17-7, the second from 26 yards for another touchdown. On that one, Toilolo covered the final 5 yards by diving.
“It was kind of hard, because they are a power offense,” said safety Deone Bucannon. “They lull you to sleep with the run. The tight end would continuously go down on the D-end and after a while you would forget about him.”
And the Cardinal made an effort to use the tight ends after halftime.
“It was the plays we chose,” coach David Shaw said. “The safeties were playing tight. We took some shots outside and it didn’t pan out.
“We came back out in the second half and decided to use some different formations.”
No welcome wagon
Stanford wide receiver Chris Owusu may never visit Pullman again.
The senior was laid out two years ago by safety Eric Block trying to catch a pass across the middle and missed the rest of the season.
Saturday, in a play that was eerily reminiscent of that hit, Owusu was crushed by safety Casey Locker coming over the middle early in the first quarter.
Owusu lay on the field for a while, was helped to the sidelines and did not return. He suffered a concussion according to Shaw.
“I have no comment on that play, because I gave all my comments to the officials during the game,” said Shaw, who was animated in his conversations with referee Shawn Hochuli.
Shaw went on to say he felt Owusu was hit in the head and there should have been a flag.
Washington State wide receiver Henry Eaddy also took a big hit on a screen pass and suffered a concussion.
When Isiah Barton opened the second half with a 50-yard kickoff return, putting the ball at midfield, the Cougars seemed to be poised to take control of what was then a 10-7 game.
But a screen pass to Barton gained just 3 yards, Carl Winston could pick up just 1 yard on a run and Jeff Tuel was sacked on third down. Stanford followed with an 85-yard scoring drive and WSU’s chances were gone.
“It was a bad response, a wasted possession,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said.
“He made a great play, gets the place fired up, rocking, then we kind of shoot ourselves in the foot,” Tuel said.
If the Cougars have a marquee position – other than quarterback – it’s supposed to be their receiving corps. On Saturday, the marquee read, “Oops.”
WSU receivers dropped no fewer than six passes, three by Barton, and saw a fumble by senior Jared Karstetter early in the second quarter lead to Stanford’s first TD.
Wulff was critical of those mistakes, but also acknowledged that the return of Tuel to the QB spot may have impacted the situation.
“Balls (from different quarterbacks) come at you different, and when you get in live situations it’s different than what you’ve been working on the last five, six weeks,” Wulff said. “I thought it could be an issue in this game. It surprised me it was to the degree that it was.”
Barton agreed that “Jeff was getting pressured and some balls were coming at us not like he usually throws. But some of it was just us not catching the ball. It was a bad day that way for the receivers.”
Wulff also allowed that Karstetter, who has just five catches in the last two games, is in a slump.
“He’s dropped some balls and that’s not like Jared,” Wulff said. “We need to get him back.”