PULLMAN – As the Washington State Cougars left Martin Stadium at halftime Saturday during their showdown with Stanford, the student section stood and roared.
The Cougars were right in the game with the seventh-ranked Cardinal, trailing by three, but still with hope of pulling the upset.
Then the second half happened, and Andrew Luck got hot. WSU, with Jeff Tuel starting at quarterback for the first time this year, did not.
The result was 28 unanswered points and a 44-14 Stanford win, the Cardinal’s school-record 14th consecutive victory before a crowd of 30,843.
“We were all pumped to go out again,” defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi said of the locker room at intermission.
“We didn’t want to go in for the halftime, we still wanted to keep playing.”
Why not? Although Stanford led 10-7, the Cougars had opened the game with a Damante Horton interception of Luck – only his second this season – and set up a late second-quarter touchdown drive with a fumble recovery in Stanford territory, Carl Winston powering in from 2 yards out.
The Cardinal (6-0 overall, 4-0 Pac-12) had just 165 yards of total offense, only one long drive – it ended in a field goal as WSU stiffened inside its 10-yard-line – and their only touchdown came after a Jared Karstetter fumble gave them the ball at Washington State’s 20.
But Stanford was used to this. Four teams this year have been within 10 points at the half.
Then the bigger, stronger Cardinal wear you down.
“We faced a physical football team, as physical as you’re going to find in the West, without question,” Cougars coach Paul Wulff said.
“In a lot of ways, I think we matched up for a while. We just got worn down.”
Especially on defense, in part because it never seemed to be off the field.
Stanford ran 34 plays in the second half, eight of them on third down. It converted seven of those third downs and scored on four of five possessions – all of them Luck passes, two to tight end Levine Toilolo, one to running back Stepfan Taylor and one to tight end Coby Fleener.
The junior Heisman Trophy candidate finished 23 of 26 for 336 yards.
“There were a handful of third-down plays we could have gotten off the field on, then we wouldn’t have had to play those extra plays,” defensive coordinator Chris Ball said.
Or if the offense could have moved the ball.
“Defensively, I feel like we did well,” Laurenzi said. “Our offense just wasn’t there to help us out.”
As it has most of the season. Coming into the game, WSU was seventh in the nation in passing, 13th in total offense, 13th in scoring.
Against a Stanford defense that leads the Pac-12 in almost every key category, the Cougars (3-3, 1-2) finished 141 yards less than their passing average, 235 less than their total offense average and about 26 less than their scoring average.
“As the game wore on, the offense couldn’t convert enough first downs and get enough drives going,” Wulff said, attributing part of that to WSU’s execution, part of it to Stanford’s defense.
But he wasn’t about to second-guess the change of quarterbacks – from Marshall Lobbestael to Jeff Tuel – this week after Tuel completed 17 of 30 passes for just 145 yards.
“Jeff was rusty, like we thought, missed some protections that could have been changed,” Wulff said. “But he didn’t have a lot of help this game.”
Wulff was referring to the six dropped passes from WSU’s receivers, but he also could have been talking about the pass protection – Stanford had six sacks – or the impotent running game – the Cougars had 48 yards on 28 rushes.
The WSU offense had one long drive against Stanford’s reserves and it came under Lobbestael, who was 7 of 8 passing for 64 yards and bootlegged a 1-yard scoring run.
For his part Tuel, who suffered a fractured clavicle against ISU on Sept. 3, said he was 100 percent. He just didn’t play as well as he needed to.
“There’s not much room for error with a ballclub like that,” Tuel said. “They did a great job of bringing the heat and having answers for what we were doing.”