PULLMAN – Washington State’s defense found a few more defining moments on Saturday afternoon.
None could match the drama of a fourth-quarter pick-six, but they mattered. A lot.
After all, USC will be in town in 12 days.
The Cougars went into the Oregon State game heavily favored but also heavily burdened – by last week’s struggles against Boise State and last year’s drama against these same Beavers and their wrecking-ball running back Ryan Nall.
Last year in Corvallis, Nall gashed the Cougs for 131 yards and two touchdowns in a game the Cougars rallied to win 35-31. He almost matched those numbers on Saturday, with 115 yards and two scores – another great example of how stats can lie.
In the first half, the Cougs made Nall almost an afterthought and turned the Beavers into a one-dimensional passing team.
“That was the plan,” linebacker Issac Dotson said.
Leading 28-9 at halftime, WSU offered the Beavers some room to run in the second half, but not enough to make a difference. The Beavers ended up with only 354 yards of total offense and averaged just 5.4 per play.
“We just played our game – we never tailor our game to just one guy,” said Dotson, who had seven tackles, including one for loss. “That’s just the result of us doing our job of taking away the run – except for one play.”
Early in the second half Nall went on a 45-yard scoring run that was a combination of brute force and breakaway speed that brought the Beavers to within 28-16.
That set up the defining moment of the evening with the 235-pound Nall. Trailing 35-16 in the third quarter but still with a fighting chance, Oregon State faced fourth-and-1 on its own 35.
Nall got the call, and he was met by a trio of Cougars, including Dotson: No gain. And no chance for an Oregon State comeback.
That also meant no fourth-quarter drama or triple overtime, which was fine with the Cougars. Next up is a Nevada team that just lost to Big Sky Conference bottomfeeder Idaho State. After that it’s USC, but no one would admit to looking that far ahead.
Instead, the Cougars were living in the moment. After the game, cornerback Marcellus Pippins reveled in the memory of another defining moment.
All week, the coaches had told Pippins and the other defensive backs to play more physical. On the first play of the fourth quarter and the Cougars ahead 42-16, Pippins took it to another level.
As Beavers quarterback Jake Luton dropped back, Pippins executed a cornerback blitz.
“I was excited, definitely,” said Pippins, who drilled Luton in the back and forced a fumble.
“I thought he just threw a bad ball, and then I heard the crowd yelling,” Pippins said.
The cheers were for linebacker Frankie Luvu, who scooped up the ball and returned it for a 40-yard score that put Washington State ahead 49-16.
That wasn’t nearly as dramatic as Peyton Pelluer’s game-turning return of a Boise State shovel pass last week, but it was something to build on.
By then, Pelluer was injured and out of the game. Backup Nate DeRider stepped in and made five tackles, three of them solo.
“I was comfortable with him next to me,” Dotson said. “I thought he played great.”