Poised For An Upset
Marshall Lobbestael’s return to the WSU Cougars starting lineup looked good on paper.
The redshirt senior from Oak Harbor was 28-48, 337 yards and 1 touchdown marking the fourth time this season he has passed for over 300 yards. Lobbestael was so effective between the 20 yard lines that at times the Ducks defense seemingly had no answer for the Cougars offense that looked like they could move the ball at will.
Yes, between the 20’s the Cougars looked like a team poised for an upset, but that’s where the difference between a game on paper and reality lies.
To face reality is something that is always the toughest thing to do. Especially knowing that you could’ve won the game if you did this or that a little bit different. Lobbestael knows that feeling all too well. If you ask him, he would love to have those two red zone interceptions back.
Both were errant throws, and both came at a time when the Cougars could ill-afford to let Oregon regain the momentum. But it wasn’t for a lack of red zone execution that proved to be the difference in the ball game.
The Cougars had four red zone possessions on Saturday. The first two trips resulted in an interception, and a missed field goal, while last two possessions resulted in a 35-yard Andrew Furney field goal, and a 9-yard Ricky Galvin touchdown.
You would like to come away with more then 10 points in four trips inside the 20, but given the teams recent struggles, 50% inside the red zone would still have been enough to win the ball game.
The true reality of this game was determined in the games first two minutes.
After a quick 3 and out on the teams first possession, Avery Johnson blocked Daniel Wagner’s punt that Boseko Lokombo would return 25-yards for the score.
It would turn into eight points when Oregon holder Jackson Rice had to jump up to connect with kicker Alejandro Maldonado for the two-point conversion.
Just like that, Washington State would find itself in a hole it would never climb out of.
That wouldn’t be the only time a lack of special teams execution would cost the Cougars in the game.
It would continue deep into the second half. After cutting the Oregon lead to ten with a 24-yards touchdown pass to Jared Karstetter, De’Anthony Thomas would return the ensuing kickoff 93-yardys untouched for his 11th touchdown this season.
In plays that would span less then two minutes, Oregon turned two Washington State miscues into 15 points. It’s those 15 points the Cougars gave away on special teams that would end up being the margin of victory.
It wasn’t all special teams miscues that would turn out to be costly. A rather conservative offensive approach in the second half cost the Cougars a real shot of pulling off an upset.
Despite Running the ball well, 39 carries for 125 yards, and controlling the time of possession, 40:26 to 19:34, the Cougars passing game showed no sense of urgency in the second half.
Down by as many as only 16 points in the 3rd quarter, instead of running a hurry-up, spread style offense, Wulff elected to stick with the horizontal passing offense of bubble screens and inside slants as a check off at the line of scrimmage.
Instead of trying to win, Wulff chose not to risk turnovers by putting the ball in Wilson, Barton or Karstetter’s hands whenever possible.
This game was a tough pill to swallow.
It’s very rare that you will ever get an opportunity to catch Oregon on a bad day. Whether they were overlooking the Cougars or not, Washington State had every opportunity to take advantage of what was there for the taking.
Even when Oregon opened the second half with a quick score, Washington State was still only one possession away from getting right back into the game. Instead of recognizing this, the Cougars were playing not to lose.
With no sense of urgency on offense down by 16 in the 4th quarter in Oregon territory, facing a 4th and 7 in four down territory, Wulff punts the ball giving the game back to Oregon.
If the Washington St. Cougars were only down by less then 7 points at that point in the game, punting would’ve been the right move, but the Cougars were down by 16 with a real shot at cutting the lead in half.
Nine times out of ten you go for the first down. Momentum was theirs for the taking, but as we know it didn’t come to fruition.
The sad fact was Oregon gave Washington state a really good opportunity to pull off an upset, but unfortunately, we continued to get in our own way.
I hope Cougar fans really know what to take from this loss.
There are no such things as moral victories. Just painful losses. We had the look and feel of a good college football team, but we didn’t play like the team we think we are.
The result could’ve been so much better if we played like the team we are capable of being.
We have that inside ourselves, we just have to learn how to be consistent.