PULLMAN – As the first Washington State player to take the podium following Saturday’s faceplant, cornerback Daniel Simmons took a crack at explaining exactly why the Cougars repeatedly fail to put teams away when given the chance.
And given the chance. And given the chance.
“It’s a recurring theme,” Simmons said. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.”
He has plenty of company in that regard. Because the theme recurred in the most humiliating way possible at Martin Stadium on Saturday, with WSU squandering a 17-point fourth-quarter lead before falling to winless, demoralized Colorado 35-34, an epic collapse punctuated by a short touchdown run by quarterback Jordan Webb with 9 seconds to go.
Perhaps more frustrating for WSU (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) partisans is that they’ve seen this before. Twice. Close wins over Eastern Washington and UNLV taught the Cougars not to let inferior opponents hang around for too long.
Coach Mike Leach, as part of his passionate, 16-minute meeting with the media afterward, seemed a tad miffed as to how his team didn’t learn from those near-failures.
“I don’t know how the hell we’re not awake,” said Leach, asked if Saturday’s loss might serve as a wakeup call. “I mean, the wealth of wins that we’ve enjoyed around here, so we’re not awake? We’ve got this rich tradition of kicking everybody’s ass, and so we’re not awake? I don’t know how the hell you can’t be. How can you not be awake?”
They were, at least early. WSU led by margins of 21-7, 28-14 and 31-14. Marquess Wilson caught two touchdowns. Isiah Myers caught another. So did Gabe Marks. Andrew Furney made a 45-yard field goal with 14:47 remaining in the game to give WSU its 17-point advantage.
Colorado (1-3, 1-0 Pac-12) even stalled on its next two possessions. So WSU faced a fourth-and-3 from the Buffaloes’ 19-yard line, still leading by 17 points with a little more than 8 minutes to play.
Leach chose to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. Sophomore quarterback Connor Halliday – who completed 32 of 60 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns – tried to force a pass over the middle that was intercepted by Buffaloes linebacker Jon Major at Colorado’s 8-yard line.
“I thought I could fit it in that hole,” Halliday said. “Obviously, it didn’t work.”
That was the ever-so-slight opening the Buffaloes needed, apparently.
Broken coverage allowed an easy-as-you-please 70-yard touchdown pass from Webb to tight end Nick Kasa a minute later. Ten-point game.
WSU safety Deone Bucannon said the defense didn’t recognize Colorado’s set soon enough, and Bucannon lined up on the wrong player.
“I can’t let that kind of stuff happen,” Bucannon said.
WSU punted back to the Buffaloes after stalling on its next possession. Two plays later, Colorado running back Tony Jones took a handoff up the middle, cut up the right sideline and didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line 84 yards later. Nobody touched him. Three-point game.
Teondray Caldwell’s 56-yard kick return set up another Furney field goal for WSU, pushing its lead to 34-28 with 3:17 to go.
By then, what was left of the crowd of 31,668 knew Colorado had more than enough time to drive the 70 yards needed for a winning touchdown.
The clock never became a factor, even after the Buffaloes drove inside WSU’s 10-yard line, then watched three running plays fail to net a touchdown.
Webb stepped to the line in a shotgun formation on fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, 12 seconds showing on the clock.
WSU emptied the box in anticipation of a pass. But Webb took the snap and perfectly executed a quarterback draw, scoring easily to lift the 20-point underdogs to a stunning come-from-behind victory.
“It was a run-pass option,” said Webb, who guided Colorado to 255 yards of total offense in the fourth quarter, and 531 in the game. “And we saw that the box was kind of thin, so we checked it to the run play like Coach tells us, and it worked out.”
Stop if you’ve heard this before, but it probably shouldn’t have ever come to that.
“We let setting – time, place, score – we let that impact it, and that’s crazy and unless we get that changed, our results are going to be the same,” Leach said. “That has to change.”
“It hurts to even talk about,” Simmons said, crestfallen. “But it’s just unacceptable, because we’re so much better than we’ve shown.”