SAN DIEGO – The ebb and flow of a college football game is often rooted in turnovers and their cousins, misplays and missed opportunities.
Washington State’s 42-24 loss to San Diego State on Saturday in Qualcomm Stadium isn’t a perfect example, but it is close.
The first half – in which the Cougars took a 17-14 lead into the locker room– San Diego State had two turnovers, both in Washington State territory. The Cougars had one, at midfield.
“That kept the score down and was the difference at halftime,” San Diego State coach Rocky Long said. “We turned it over when we were in scoring position. (But) I’m proud of the kids for hanging in there, because there were times when it looked pretty bad.”
Such as right after halftime, when Marquess Wilson’s second long touchdown, a 78-yard screen pass, put WSU up 24-14.
That’s when the Cougars, who had their first turnover of the year late in the UNLV game, started to make mistakes.
It started with a punt block gone wrong which, though not a turnover per se, allowed San Diego State to keep possession. That was followed by two dropped passes by receivers in the next two possessions. Again, not turnovers but close kin.
Then came the fumble offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy thought was the turning point, a Marshall Lobbestael drop at San Diego State’s 25. Finally, the next two Cougars possessions were ended by interceptions and riddled by penalties.
“We were moving the ball, but something would cause us to stumble, whether it was a turnover or some big penalties,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “We had two chop blocks in the fourth quarter, which are 15-yard penalties, and we had two turnovers in the fourth quarter.
“You put those four things together, that’s pretty tough.”
The Cougars had at least four drops as well, including a sure first down on a third-and-18 by Wilson that preceded the Aztecs’ go-ahead score.
“I hate it when I drop the ball,” Wilson said. “It’s one of my least favorite things. I just strive for perfection and I’m really of the mindset I want to catch everything.”
Aztecs tight ends catch on
The San Diego State tight ends almost did catch everything.
The Aztecs play three of them, including former Lewis and Clark High player Alston Umuolo, a senior that had three catches for 32 yards. Those were the first catches for Umuolo, who moved away from Spokane early in high school career, since the first part of last season.
He and starters Gavin Escobar and Bryce Quigley – SDSU plays two tight ends on nearly every down – combined for 11 catches and 122 yards.
Escobar, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound sophomore, also had two touchdown receptions. On the first he was so open down the left sideline he could have walked into the end zone. The second he had to go high above safety Deone Bucannon to take away what would be a 21-yard final score.
Quarterback Ryan Lindley could have added to the tight ends’ numbers, but he missed them at least three times when they were running free. One of those throws was so long, Bucannon came up with a diving interception.
Washington State came into the game banged up a bit. Besides quarterback Jeff Tuel, whose fractured left clavicle is scheduled to be X-rayed today, starting center Andrew Roxas missed the game with a sprained right ankle. He was replaced by Taylor Meighen, making his first WSU start.
Only one Cougar was injured during the game, as defensive end Adam Coerper had to be helped off the field by two teammates after suffering a sprained knee. His status is unknown.
Defensive tackle Brandon Rankin, who left the field in the first half with a sore ankle, had it retaped and finished the game.
Washington State’s special teams had their ups and downs beyond the blocked-punt attempt that didn’t work.
Colin Lockett returned the five WSU kickoffs for 123 yards, although 44 of those came on his second one of the game.
Leon McFadden also chipped in a 26-yard punt return that set up the Aztecs near midfield. That drive ended when Lindley couldn’t handle a snap and Jordan Pu’u Robinson jumped on the fumble.
The Cougars’ return game had its moments, with Isiah Barton returning six kickoffs for 159 yards, including a long of 37. The senior also caught a 23-yard touchdown pass from Lobbestael.