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‘We just left way too much money out there.’ Washington State hoping to see more TDs, fewer FGs against Portland State

during the first half of college football game on Saturday, Sep 4, 2021, at Martin Stadium in Pullman, Wash.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s nothing personal against Washington State’s kickers. Nick Rolovich just hopes to see less of them come Saturday when the Cougars host Portland State.

“I love Dean (Janikowski), I love all our kickers, but we need to get them extra-point opportunities and not four field-goal opportunities when we’re in the red zone,” Rolovich said on Zoom Monday in a weekly news conference.

In a 26-23 season-opening loss to Utah State, the Cougars squandered big opportunities in all three phases of the game, which made it difficult to distribute the blame to one in particular. Janikowski hit the left goal post on a 31-yard attempt in the second quarter and WSU’s defense conceded two touchdowns during the final 5 minutes, 25 seconds, allowing the Aggies to erase a 12-point deficit and send the Pac-12 North to a 1-5 record on college football’s opening weekend.

But in the wake of defeat, most fans directed their frustration toward Rolovich and WSU’s offense, which came up short on the 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter when third-string quarterback Cammon Cooper entered the game to execute a goal-line package the Cougars had trotted out in practice.

The Aggies executed their defensive plan better, however, and WSU whiffed on its best opportunity to put the game out of reach. That may have been the most visible and aggravating example of the Cougars failing to capitalize in the red zone, but it wasn’t the only one.

In the second quarter, a 10-play, 57-yard drive made it to the 14-yard line before stopping short. When WSU’s defense produced an interception with less than 3 minutes left until halftime, the offense drove down to the 9-yard line before settling for a field goal. Then, in the third quarter, the Cougars called on Janikowski’s leg when they couldn’t finish a nine-play, 62-yard drive in the end zone.

WSU’s quarterbacks, Jarrett Guarantano and Jayden de Laura, weren’t especially efficient in the passing game, completing 20 of 35 attempts for 211 yards and one touchdown. Rolovich indicated the issues in the passing game weren’t solely the fault of the WSU QBs, though. Two receivers were making their first career starts and the Cougars played two newcomers on the offensive line after center Brian Greene left the game with an injury.

“I don’t think we threw the ball particularly well and that’s not the quarterback position entirely,” Rolovich said. “The whole passing game was subpar. Screens, and I understand they go with the passing chart, but we need to get more out of the dropback game. I thought we didn’t adjust early enough and you’ve got to give credit.”

WSU scored on four of five opportunities in the red zone but punched in just one touchdown. Of the 30 points available to them in red-zone opportunities, the Cougars cashed in on 15.

Against Pac-12 opposition in 2020, WSU had 11 touchdowns on 16 red-zone opportunities, converting 69% of the time. In their least efficient game, a home loss against Oregon, the Cougars still registered three TDs on six red-zone chances.

“We had more than a few chances to put that game away,” Rolovich said. “I’m glad we didn’t just fold, but we have to finish whether it’s the red-zone issues. Like I said, Dean did a good job, but we’re not in this game to kick four out of five field goals when we get down to the red zone. We need to be better there, we need to get seven points.”

Donovan Ollie, a redshirt sophomore who made his first start at “Z” receiver, was the only player in a crimson uniform who manufactured a red-zone touchdown. In some ways, the moment of his first college touchdown was overshadowed by the chances Ollie felt he and his teammates squandered.

“We just left way too much money out there, we left too many opportunities when we were in the red zone,” Ollie said. “Two, three times where we should’ve scored easily. There was a ball I should’ve high-pointed that ended up in the safety. Especially me personally, I just felt like we left way too many opportunities out there.”