Maybe Washington State felt like the offense had reached it’s apex under Marshall Lobbestael. Maybe the WSU Cougars felt like their backs were against the wall.
Maybe it was something as simple as Paul Wulff needing to kick start his offense.
Maybe it was a combination of all three, but for whatever reason, the Washington State Cougars put together four quarters of inspired football that led to their most impressive victory of the Paul Wulff era. The Cougs defeated the Sun Devils 37-27 in a back-and-fourth game.
Head Coach Paul Wulff and offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy knew their offense was a stagnant, and conservative system with Marshall Lobbestael as their QB.
With their bowl life in doubt, something had to give.
I would say that decision payed off.
Halliday’s presence in the huddle was like an instant shot of adrenaline in the arm for Washington State.
On his first play from scrimmage Halliday hit Marquess Wilson in stride for an 85-yard touchdown pass.
From that point forward, the WSU offense would continue to march down field with an air of confidence. Conner Halliday (27/36, 494 yards, 4 TD’s set WSU and Pac-12 freshman passing records) gave the passing attack something it hasn’t since the first two weeks of the season, it was unstoppable.
As legendary as Halliday’s performance was, it wasn’t the difference in the game.
It was the change in the offensive system that attributed to Halliday’s success.
It was the main reason why Washington St. was even able to pull out the victory. With the Cougar offense under Marshall Lobbestael, everything about the attack was conservative minded.
From the bubble screens to the inside slants, the game plan got away from what the Cougars are known for.
It became a vanilla, one-dimensional, “power” running team.
With Conner Halliday under center, Paul Wulff had the luxury of letting the Washington St. Cougars go back to it’s bread and butter, the spread passing attack.
Using his possession receivers, Jared Karstetter and Isaiah Barton (13 rec, 218 yards, 1 TD) as decoys on deep crossing routes, Marquess Wilson (8 rec, 223 yards, 3 TD) was able to be exactly what he is, a big play, home run threat.
From that stand point, WSU’s offense became more potent, and as we were able to witness on Saturday, they were instantly able to become a deadly offensive unit.
This is was what the offense should’ve been the entire season. A vertical passing, scatter back running, big play, down field machine.
The good vibrations of the home crowd, and the emotional pre-game flag raising of former linebacker Steve Gleason created an emotional lift to the defense.
Their performance was inspired.
No longer were they unable to tackle or take bad paths to the ball. They were daring Arizona St receivers to make plays. When the Cougs needed a stop, they were able to dial up a play when they needed one.
After a late fourth-quarter Dan Wagner punt, Brock Osweiler (28/44, 351 yards, 1 TD) marched Arizona State 58 yards to the Cougars 9 yard line. With four shots at the end zone, Arizona State was stopped a yard short of a first down, turning the ball over on downs.
It was that bend, but don’t break Cougars defense that put the team in a position to win this game.
Paul Wulff’s calculated decision to replace Lobbestael was what really won this game for the Cougars.
These are the type of big play coaching decisions that are required when your team’s backs are against the wall.
It wasn’t an act of desperation. Not in the least. Wulff recognized that Marshall Lobbestael can only give you so much at the QB position, and his best isn’t good enough.
It’s no fault of his own, but Halliday gives the offense what seemed to be lacking in Jeff Tuel‘s absence.
With the season riding on a must win performance, the team needed a must win decision from it’s head coach.
They got one, and a shot in the arm. Which was exactly what this Cougar team needed on Saturday night.