Losses always hurt. But sometimes wins, even improbable ones like Washington State’s 47-44 triple-overtime victory over Boise State can hurt even longer.
Yes, the 20th-ranked Cougars rallied after trailing by 21 points in the fourth quarter. Yes, they took advantage of the Broncos’ largesse. And, yes, they will have incredible momentum going into next Saturday’s Pac-12 opener against Oregon State.
But they lost lost their quarterback and leader, Luke Falk. At least for a while.
On a night when Falk set Washington State records for passing and total offensive yards, he was knocked from the game early in the fourth quarter. Understudy Tyler Hilinski came on and led the Cougars to an improbable comeback victory.
Yes, Boise State helped immensely, including throwing a shovel pass interception to Peyton Pelluer for a Cougars score and losing a punt that bounced off a blocker and was recovered by a redshirt freshman named Dillon Sherman.
That bad bounce led to the tying score, a Hilinski 6-yard pass to Jamal Morrow.
But the heroics came with Falk on the sidelines, throwing, yes, but never looking as if he would return. He didn’t. The nature and the severity of the injury are unknown.
But we do know the knockout blow on Falk came from Jabril Frazier, a sack that resulted in a 55-yard grabbed-out-of-the-air fumble return by Curtis Weaver, a 6-foot-3, 252-pound defensive lineman.
Despite the records – Falk passed both Alex Brink’s and Connor Halliday’s marks on a 59-yard pass to Renard Bell late in the first half – the Cougars’ offense struggled throughout, not getting its first score until 8 minutes were left. That came on a Hilinski 17-yard pass to Jamire Calvin.
It was Hilinski’s first scoring toss of the season. Depending on what happens off the field this week, the Cougars may need him to throw a lot more.
Tough going in trenches
The guys up front were expected to be Washington State’s offensive strength this season. Big, strong and mobile, they were supposed to overpower the Cougars’ opponents, opening holes for the stable of running backs and protecting Falk as he assaulted the Pac-12 passing record book.
But that didn’t happen.
Boise State’s defense dominated the line of scrimmage all night. By definition, that means it also dominated the Cougars’ offensive line.
The Broncos showed a three-man rush much of the night. But they brought more – and from varying spots – often enough to cause confusion.
The Cougars had just 35 passing yards in the first quarter, 180 after three. When they got the ball for the first time in the fourth, they trailed 24-10 and had to throw on almost every down.
But it’s not like the running game had been carrying WSU. With the Boise State safeties lining up within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage on most downs, the Cougar trio of James Williams, Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks never got going. They combined for 54 yards on 19 carries.
Brett Rypien is appreciated in Boise, as a two-time All-Mountain West quarterback should be.
But he may not be the Broncos’ quarterback anymore. Though it’s not all his fault.
Rypien was knocked out of Saturday night’s game in the first quarter by a vicious Frankie Luvu tackle, the Cougars’ second explosive sack in less than five minutes.
The first, by Luvu and Hercules Mata’afa, resulted in a fumble and Robert Taylor’s scoop-and-score, the only touchdown WSU scored in the first half.
The second, when right tackle John Molchon whiffed on Luvu’s inside rush, resulted in Rypien sitting the rest of the game.
He also was pulled last week in the season-opening win over Troy after four sacks. The offensive line’s inability to protect the Shadle Park High star forced coach Bryan Harsin to utilize the more mobile Montell Cozart.
Cozart was called upon again after Rypien left and his legs – and arm – gave the Cougars fits.
Running quarterbacks seem to do that to Alex Grinch’s defenses, especially early in the season.
Their commitment to pressure can lead to loss of containment, as happened late in the third quarter when Cozart took advantage of Nnamdi Oguayo’s false steps toward the middle. The right side was open and Cozart outran Oguayo and the defense for a 14-yard go-ahead score.
And he threw well enough. With the Cougars’ pass rush negated a bit by the worry of his scrambles, Cozart had plenty of time to complete deep throws. That includes the 47-yarder to Cedrick Wilson to open the fourth quarter.