By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Reiview
CORVALLIS, Ore. — He wasn’t saying it to place blame solely on quarterbacks Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel, because certainly all aspects of Washington State’s offense had a hand in Saturday’s no-show.
But coach Mike Leach provided at least an abridged snapshot of what went wrong in the Cougars’ 19-6 loss at Oregon State here on Saturday.
“Connor threw interceptions,” Leach said. “And Jeff got sacked. Either way, we need to improve both of them.”
And the running game, and the offensive line, and just about everything else that has anything to do with offense, because WSU had very little of it to complement the finest defensive performance anyone has seen from the Cougars in some time.
It’s been two years since WSU held a conference opponent without a touchdown in the first half, a feat last accomplished here at Reser Stadium, where in 2010 the Cougars emerged with a surprising 31-14 victory.
This one was surprising, too, in that OSU manhandled WSU’s offensive line and receivers despite entering the game ranked 113th in the nation in pass defense.
Halliday threw two interceptions in the first half and another after halftime, and was pulled twice – the second time for good – in favor of Tuel, who wound up absorbing three sacks from OSU defensive end Scott Crichton.
“Offensively, it just became a series of errors,” Leach said.
The two quarterbacks combined to complete 20 of 37 passes for 207 yards (Tuel 11 of 17 for 126, Halliday 9 of 20 for 81). Added to a rushing effort that netted just 20 yards on 14 carries, that wasn’t enough. Not even on a day when WSU’s defense held OSU to 370 yards of total offense, 270 of those in the first three quarters before the Beavers pulled away at the end.
The first half, at least, was the picture of what the Cougars want to be on that side of the ball. They sacked OSU quarterback Sean Mannion twice, forced him into a bad interception by Ioane Gauta, and made the Beavers settle for only two field goals and a 6-3 halftime lead despite reaching WSU’s 24-yard line on each of their first three possessions.
“We knew what plays were coming,” said WSU linebacker Justin Sagote. “We were calling it out before they even happened. It kind of helped us as a defense to swarm.”
But there was no help from the offense. OSU opened the third quarter by finishing a 75-yard scoring drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass from Mannion to Markus Wheaton for a 13-3 lead.
Halliday was intercepted by Jordan Poyer two plays later – the second of Poyer’s three interceptions – and the sophomore quarterback headed to the bench for the rest of the game.
“They mixed it up real well,” Halliday said. “They kept us guessing and for the most part the offense was confused out there.”
It improved with Tuel at the helm, but not greatly. The senior led WSU to OSU’s 15-yard in the fourth quarter still trailing by 10, but the drive stalled and the Cougars settled for another Andrew Furney field goal.
And if the Beavers’ 12-play, 86-yard scoring drive that followed wasn’t the straw that broke the Air Raid’s back – OSU took its final 19-6 lead with 4:27 remaining — then it was Tuel’s interception to Poyer five snaps later that sealed WSU’s miserable offensive performance.
At 2-4, WSU’s chances to snap its eight-year bowl-less streak seem grim.
Surprised? So are the Cougars.
“What our potential can be, I don’t know if anybody really understands it like we do,” said junior safety Deone Bucannon. “It’s not just like another loss and we’re going to go lay down and sleep like babies. It means something to us.”
But Saturday just meant another loss. That these still feel so familiar might be the biggest disappointment of all.