By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
TEMPE, Ariz. — The bloodied scab atop the bridge of Connor Halliday’s nose said enough about the beating Washington State took from Arizona State on Saturday.
But to really drive the point home, Halliday reflected on more than just ASU’s 46-7 pole-axing of the Cougars at Sun Devil Stadium before a generously announced crowd of 53,438.
“I don’t think you could write a movie for the way the season’s gone,” Halliday said. “Our best player leaving the team. Everything that’s transpired. All the drama, all the outside hoopla, all the plays I haven’t even seen in a junior-high, YMCA-GridKid-kind of game. I don’t think a Hollywood writer would write something like this.”
Quentin Tarantino, maybe.
A certain amount of morbid creativity is required to truly assess how sideways this season has gone for the Cougars (2-9 overall, 0-8 Pac-12), now losers of eight consecutive games after another embarrassment in the desert.
At least they scored this time, Halliday tossing a 54-yard touchdown pass to Kristoff Williams late in the fourth quarter to help WSU avoid the distinction of being shut out in each of its past three trips to Tempe.
There was a 42-0 beatdown in 2010, and a slightly more encouraging 31-0 defeat in the best-forgotten season of 2008.
But Saturday felt similar to some of those past trips behind the woodshed. ASU (6-5, 4-4) played most of the first half on WSU’s side of the field, taking an 11-0 lead at the 8:27 mark of the first quarter thanks to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Kelly to Rashad Ross.
That lead became 18-0 two possessions later when Kelly pump-faked, then passed to wide-open Chris Coyle for an 18-yard touchdown.
“They spread us out well and had us with a lot of one-on-one matchups, which made it difficult,” said junior safety Deone Bucannon, who led the Cougars with a game-high 17 tackles. “That’s probably one of the more difficult stops to make in space, one-on-one, with an elusive runner.”
They all seemed elusive to the Cougars, who allowed ASU 561 yards of total offense, 301 of those through the air via the arm of Kelly or backup Michael Eubank.
Kelly completed 20-of-23 passes — and completed his final 18 attempts, a school record — and threw four touchdown passes. Eubank was 7-of-9 for 55 yards and a score. And in between passes to wide-open receivers, ASU rushed the ball 61 times for 297 yards, hammering the Cougars up the middle with zone-reads while deftly mixing in play-action passes.
It was 32-0 by halftime and 46-0 by the end of the third quarter, and even the fans who bothered coming in the first place were headed in search of greater entertainment.
WSU coach Mike Leach, who has been as stark in his criticism of his team’s play as anyone this season, had little to say afterward.
“I thought we played hard,” Leach said. “And then we went frantic when we faced adversity.”
That certainly applied to the offense, too. Jeff Tuel started at quarterback but was benched after completing 8-of-16 passes for 67 yards and an interception.
Halliday didn’t fare much better, completing 13-of-33 passes for 173 yards. He was sacked six times.
“It’s just tough to move an offense at all when we’ve got dropped balls, we’ve got two to three people coming untouched through the line,” Halliday said. “It just makes it tough on the whole offense and it puts a lot of pressure on our defense, too.”
Leach told the Cougars afterward to “get on the plane, forget about this game and put everything we’ve got into this Apple Cup” against Washington on Friday, Tuel said.
By then, perhaps there will be a resolution in the investigation surrounding the departure of receiver Marquess Wilson. Bucannon acknowledged the Wilson situation may have been a distraction to some. But he was steadfast in his proclamation that WSU will be ready for the Huskies, who will enter the game with a 7-4 record and a four-game winning streak.
“We’re coming hot-headed as ever,” Bucannon said. “We’re going in there fiery, each and every day.
This whole week of practices is going to be our most intense practices we have all year, because we have nothing to lose.”
Except one more game, barring a plot twist.