COUGARS UPDATED: 12:45 A.M.
It's late and I have a 6:30 a.m. flight back to Spokane, so this will be quick. We are posting our unedited game story on the link. Read on.
UPDATE: Just a couple things before I hit the sack. One is about Jeff Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael. I asked Paul Wulff afterward if Tuel goes into the week as the No. 1 quarterback. "Oh boy," Wulff said. "I wouldn't say that. Marshall is very key for this football team. He didn't start off real hot, but he can play a lot better than he did today. So right now I would say Marshall is our starting quarterback. At the same time, we have to evaluate the film and go from there." Which means there won't be a decision until tomorrow at the earliest. ... The other thing I wanted to pass along comes from co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball as we were walking up the tunnel toward the locker room. "If we just execute on those big plays they scored, boy we would be really, really happy right now," he said. "We're starting to settle in, starting to settle in. We've just got to keep working." He also said the group is growing up, improving and he believes the future is bright.
• Here's the story ...
LOS ANGELES – The University of Southern California defeated Washington State 27-6 Saturday night before 75,216 in the Los Angeles Coliseum.
But that probably won't be what Cougar fans remember.
They'll probably recall freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel's first appearance in a Washington State uniform. And they might recall two second-half goal-line stands that stymied USC's attempts to make this one a blowout like last season.
"For an 18-year-old young football player playing his first football, he played great," WSU coach Paul Wulff said of Tuel, who finished 14 of 22 for 130 yards and one interception and rushed for another 34 yards. "There were some mistakes made out there, but the great thing is he didn't force it."
As for the defensive effort that limited 12th-ranked USC (3-1 overall, 1-1 in Pac-10 play) to only one drive of more than 60 yards, Wulff thought it was their best this year.
"Our defense did some really, really good things," Wulff said.
But the focal point was the true freshman Tuel, who was ticketed to redshirt until a week ago. But at that time the Cougars (1-3, 0-2) changed starters, from senior Kevin Lopina to sophomore Marshall Lobbestael.
At that time Wulff said Tuel was going to play. And when he did, he would play a lot.
He was true to his word. Tuel came on with WSU trailing 20-0 and 8:35 left in the first half.
At that point the Cougars had the ball five times and had gained 3 yards of total offense. They were 0-for-6 on third downs (one possession had two due to a USC roughing the kicker penalty) and had posted minus-11 yards rushing yards thanks to four sacks.
Seven plays into Tuel's initial drive, WSU had moved into positive rushing territory and onto the Trojans' side of the field – for only the third time in two years.
For the record, Tuel's first pass was a 5-yard out to Tony Thompson. It gained a first down on third-and-4 from the 31.
The Cougars slowly moved down the field, with Tuel scrambling twice for 12 yards and the rushing attack picking up consistent yardage in the middle.
But when WSU got to the USC 11 in the final minute of the half, it stalled.
On first down Tuel had to scramble and throw the ball away. He was sacked on the next two plays, the last one coming with 25 seconds left.
Nico Grasu and the field goal unit hustled out, got the snap off in time but Grasu's 34-yard kick was wide left.
Of their seven first-half first downs, five came on Tuel's drive.
His best drive was the Cougars last. Taking over after a USC fumble at the 39 with 4 minutes, 17 seconds left, Tuel marched WSU 71 yards to their only score. Against a USC defense playing prevent, Tuel was 9 of 11 for 69 yards.
“I was honestly more excited than nervous,” Tuel said. “I just told myself, ‘It’s a game I’ve played my whole life.' I love to play. I’m out here to have fun.”
The defense didn't have much, at least early. Though two second-half stops inside the 5-yard line brought a smile to co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball.
"It's a loss, but the effort of the kids was great," he said walking off the field. "And those goal-line stands were great. We've actually played pretty good red-zone defense this year."
But long strikes have hurt, and they did again Saturday. All of USC scores came courtesy of big plays and short drives.
The Trojans first drive took 1:02, propelled by Damian Williams' 26-yard punt return after WSU's first possession. That put USC at the WSU 31 and it only took three plays to score on Joe McKnight's 3-yard run – and, time-wise, it was USC's longest scoring drive.
Another 26-yard punt return by Williams started the Trojans next scoring drive on the WSU 28. Two plays later Brice Butler collected his first career scoring pass, a 29-yarder from Matt Barkley. USC handled a full blitz and, taking advantage of single coverage, Butler got behind Xavier Hicks.
Kicker Jacob Harfman followed that big play with one of his own. He saw Joshua Garret wasn't paying attention on the Cougars' front line, dribbled the kickoff 10 yards and recovered it.
One play later Barkley showed his injured shoulder, which kept him out of the Washington upset last week, was just fine.
The Trojans' wide receivers ran out patterns and Williams was isolated on middle linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis, who led WSU with 10 tackles. The Trojan was just too fast, gathered Barkley's pass in at the 20 and raced into the end zone.
"We gave up 20 points in the first quarter," said linebacker Andy Mattingly, "and seven the last three. That's how we've played every game this year. We have to start faster."
The final touchdown, a 6-yard fourth-quarter run by Stafon Johnson, followed the first of WSU's three turnovers.
Tardy ended the third quarter innocently enough with a 4-yard run. But, as the teams changed sides, referee Brian O'Cain announced the play was under review. Though replays seemed inconclusive, it was ruled a fumble.
Three plays later, USC was back in the end zone.
The Trojans helped the WSU cause with 13 penalties for 115 yards. WSU was also called for twice its average of four a game, for 42 yards.
Barkley finished 13 of 22 for 247 yards and two touchdowns.
• That's it for tonight. With that early flight tomorrow, we probably won't have a chance to post until we get to Seattle. What we will put up then is our stuff, and whatever we can find out of Los Angeles. Until then …