Final Score: Washington St. 31 Oregon St. 14
Washington St. taking a knee, in the "Victory Formation", multiple times, isn't what anyone expected to see Saturday in Corvallis. It certainly isn't something Cougars coach Paul Wulff has seen the need to practice. Yet there it was, as the Cougars claimed their first Pac-10 win since the 2008 Apple Cup, snapping a 16 game conference losing streak, and 17 straight losses to FBS opponents. And the image summed up the day as well as anything could.
If ever there was an opportunity for a team, and a program, to quit, a road trip at the end of a disastrous 10 game grind, one with no bye weeks that would leave any team worn down, on a cold rainy day, this was it. And whether they would lie down was a legitimate question many inside and outside the Washington St. community had.
It was immediately apparent Saturday that wasn't the case. Butch and the band brought energy, starting with the battle of the bands, and they brought that enthusiasm into the stadium. Then Jeff Tuel and crew took over.
Tuel completed 10 of 15 passes for 157 yards, and a touchdown, and also rushed 18 times for 79 yards, earning an ESPN helmet sticker, for a performance shown on Fox. Tuel actually produced 103 yards on positive rushing plays, before 4 sacks were subtracted. This despite being knocked out of the game for a portion of the second quarter, while trainers evaluated what they feared was a concussion producing collision at the goal line on the Cougar's second scoring drive.
The injury, which forced Washington St. to turn to Marshall Lobbestael temporarily, might have been a game changer, but the Cougars got an interception by Aire Justin, and a sack by Brandon Rankin, to stop a pair of Oregon St. drives before halftime.
After 45 minutes to clear the cob-webs, Tuel and the Cougars took the second half kickoff, and drove 64 yards for a third score, a drive that consumed almost five minutes.
From the outset, the Cougars played with purpose and energy, and they dominated most of the game. To the tune of a better than two to one time of possession advantage, which translated to a 14-0 lead at halftime, and a 21-0 lead before Oregon St. finally found the end zone.
A pair of Ryan Katz touchdown tosses to Marcus Wheaton never brought the Beavers closer than two touchdowns, and the Cougars prevented Oregon St. from picking up even a first down on their last two possessions to close out the win.
So how did it happen? How could a team ranked 119th. out of 120 FCS teams hold Oregon St., and Jacquizz Rodgers, to less than 100 yards rushing? How did the Cougars come up with their highest scoring game of the season, and do it on the road?
First and foremost, the Cougars tried. They came in with energy, but also a plan. And it was clear from the start, not just after the beat down was well under way, when it's always easy to be excited, that Washington St.'s entourage wanted to be there.
Losing always leaves questions about coaching, and after a 42-0 loss two weeks ago in Tempe, speculation started about whether the Cougars, who had at least put up a good struggle as the losses continued to mount, had finally given up.
Another heartbreaking loss, 20-13 against Cal a week ago, the first win this season outside Berkeley for the Bears, opened the question as to whether the players, students, band, or anyone, would even bother to come back to Pullman after the road trip, and Thanksgiving. Or whether Wulff should.
And it's a legitimate topic, because once the coach loses the support of those he leads, it's time to start over. But Wulff came up with a well-thought out game plan, and the collection of players and others, who clearly are still having fun, and want to make things work, executed it. The win and the rain should have washed away questions about whether Wulff will survive for another season.
"It starts with faith in our players, and their belief in each other, and all of us," Wulff said. "To go 11 straight weeks like we've done, and to be banged up and then to go on the road, and play that hard and physical like we did, was a tribute to their character. The players are excited. They've all been working so hard and they've never gotten down. The players are excited; they want to keep fighting hard and win for each other, and to come out and do it the way we did is a pretty thorough win."
A whole lot of wins won't be coming Washington St.'s way until some more talent and depth does, but the Cougars took an important step to make sure that if that talent and depth do show up, it has the chance to do some good.
What should have been the smallest visiting crowd of the season in Corvallis was instead the largest, contributing to a ticket sale of 45,389, sixth largest in Reser stadium history. And as dark set in, the Cougar crowd, team, and band could be heard chanting "App-Le Cup! App-Le Cup! App-Le Cup!", something Washington St. (2-8, 1-7) will have three weeks to prepare for.
Breaking Down the Oregon St. Breakdowns
Oregon St. seemed surprised at what they were seeing from Washington St., and unsure as to what to do about it, all afternoon. That applied to both the offense and the defense.
Oregon St. was limited to just 97 rushing yards, 93 by Rodgers, and only 164 yards passing, 155 by Katz, who completed 12 of 21 throws, for both Beaver touchdowns, but also threw an interception, and suffered 4 of the 5 sacks Washington St. registered. Katz struggled sufficiently, missing a couple of wide open receivers, that Cody Vaz ran the last series of the first half.
One oft repeated problem was Oregon St.'s continual inability to block Washington St., and 'Quizz's numbers were only as good as they were as a result of several individual efforts that produced yardage out of thin air.
Benny studies the blocking problem.
The problem is illustrated above, where Benny is studying the problem. Notably, none of the Beaver blockers are square with the line of scrimmage. The Cougar defense continually gap attacked, avoiding head-on blocks, and turning the Oregon St. offensive linemen to one side or the other. Oregon St. never adjusted. The picture is from the fourth quarter, but could as well have been from early in the game. All day long, Washington St. was able to create technique and assignment problems.
The Oregon St. defense's inability to get off the field contributed to the Beavers' offensive problems as well. 'Quizz produced only 125 total yards, on just 19 touches. But with only 19:05 of possession, 'Quizz was on pace for a 30 touch game, and close to 200 yards, if Oregon St. had the ball half the game. As it was, there weren't enough snaps to get what was good production per play, 6.6 yards per touch, to translate into typical Rodgers yardage, or get many others involved.
It's not as though there weren't chances, and near misses. A diving Cougar saved 60 yards, and a 'Quizz touchdown, on a drive that Oregon St. didn't accomplish much more with.
Marcus Wheaton's six catches, for 97 yards, and the two scores, were almost all of the rest of the day's offense.
The Oregon St. defense again struggled, and while some of it could be assignment errors by individuals, the concerns are why the Beavers are in some of the difficult positions that allow big plays, and why are the problems not being corrected.
Tuel was the latest quarterback to have a spectacular day against defensive coordinator Mark Banker's defense, but in many cases, he had many options to work with. Analyzing the above play, there are seven Cougars and seven Beavers in the shot. There are four receivers out side, all single covered, and there is also no middle line backer. And therefore, no pressure up the middle, despite the fact that both outside linebackers, Dwight Roberson (59) and Keith Pankey (35), are at or inside the tackles. Pankey is committed to rush containment, but Roberson is not deployed to a position to take any option away from Tuel.
Going with 5 DBs against 4 receivers is not unsound, but dropping the middle linebacker, instead of an outside backer, or a rush lineman, left an assignment mis-match Tuel could capitalize on in several different ways.
The possibly decisive scoring drive Washington St. mounted to start the second half was successful due to the lack of a defensive adjustment.
Jared Karstetter (84), pulled in a completion against single coverage on the sideline just over midfield, but notice that safety Lance Mitchell (10) has already lost Daniel Blackledge, Washington St.'s inside route receiver. Tuel and the Washington St. coaching staff noticed too.
Two plays later, Mitchell, with sole deep responsibility for two thirds of the field, is deployed too shallow, and when James Dockery (4) stumbled slightly, Marquess Wilson was able to break unchecked behind all coverage,
and out-run Mitchell to make the catch, and score, putting Washington St. ahead 21-0.
Tuel's 18 carries continued a trend of even mildly mobile quarterbacks coming up big against Oregon St. as well, and included several where he stepped out of contact, including below, where Dominic Glover went very low, for the ankles.
Compounding the poor tackling was the lack of containment. Once Tuel escaped Glover's grasp, there is nothing in a lot of green space except a friendly face in Daniel Blackledge.
Oregon St. (4-5, 3-3) fell to fifth place in the Pac-10 standings, and still needs two wins to become bowl eligible, with the USC Trojans (7-3, 4-3), who defeated the #18 Arizona Wildcats 24-21 in Tucson, coming to Reser next Saturday night, for a 5 PM game on ABC.
With a trip to sixth ranked Stanford and the visit from #1 Oregon in the Civil War also still ahead, winning for a third time in a row when 'SC comes to Corvallis is almost essential for Oregon St. to have any chance to salvage their season, after losing two in a row, and three of their last four.
The first two losses, by one point at Washington in double overtime, and on a field goal as time expired at UCLA were concerning, but despite Oregon St. showing up unprepared in those games, the Beavers were still only a play away from not only already being bowl eligible, but even unbeaten in the conference.
This time, it wasn't even close. Washington St. benefited from a successful on-side kick that caromed back to them, a rare special teams miscue by Oregon St., but unlike the prior losses, in a 31-14 game, no single series, much less one play, made a decisive difference.
Oregon St. will need to take a page from the Washington St. play book, and decide how they want to finish a disappointing season.
(Photos by Andy Wooldridge)