By CRAIG HILL
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service
Jason Gesser believes Washington State is on the verge of something special, and it’s starting to make him sick.
“I want us to be something special instead of just being on the verge,” the sophomore quarterback said. “We’ve been on the verge all season.”
For four weeks, the Cougars have found themselves locked in bizarre, down-to-the-last-minute football games but they’ve won only half. The wildest of all came Saturday night when then-No. 22 Arizona held off WSU in triple overtime, 53-47.
Gesser doesn’t see it as another step toward being a good team. He sees it as another loss that should have been a win.
“We need to find a way to win these close games,” Gesser said. “It’s terrible to lose like this.”
Gesser was mad at himself for the interception he threw in the third overtime that ended the game, even though he easily could have passed along the blame to the Pacific-10 Conference’s worst defense. The Cougars’ defense allowed Arizona, the conference’s worst offense, to match WSU’s 490 total yards, including 254 on the ground.
The defense played well in the first half, pressuring quarterback Ortege Jenkins and even stiffening up against the run at times. But in the second half, the Cougars reverted to the bend-and-break style they’ve used in allowing 35.3 points a game.
Arizona amassed 295 yards in the second half and the overtime periods, including 201 rushing yards behind an offensive line so thin it starts a 17-year-old center.
The Cougars spent all week trying to shore up their defense and now they’re heading back to the drawing board with Arizona State on tap Saturday.
While the WSU defense showed it may indeed be in over its head, the offense made a rather impressive statement against Arizona, one of the Pac-10’s best defenses. The Wildcats’ defense, No. 22 in the country, had allowed just 48 points in the previous five games combined.
The big question about WSU’s offense entering the game was whether it could be effective against a top-flight Pac-10 defense. And while Gesser couldn’t get away with a lot of his mad scrambling, he adapted and threw for a school-record six touchdowns.
The WSU offense showed an adaptability it hasn’t had the past two seasons. Arizona’s heralded defensive lines whipped the Cougars’ young offensive line so often that WSU was called for seven false starts in the first half. (The Cougars finished with 15 penalties and would have broken the school record of 19 if Arizona hadn’t declined five.)
The Cougars figured out how to handle the Arizona defensive line in the fourth quarter when they went to a two-tight-end formation. Before that, the Cougars had six rushing yards. They finished with 112 – 101 from Dave Minnich.
But none of this took away the sting of defeat for Gesser.
“It’s hard to take good out of anything but a win,” Gesser said.
That’s WSU coach Mike Price’s job.
“I just told the guys I’m proud of them,” Price said. “That’s a pretty good team we just played. If we keep playing like this we could have a very good season.”
Too that, Gesser cheered up a bit.
“I guess there’s really no reason we can’t win all the rest of our games,” Gesser said. “I know we are good enough to win them all … we just need to fix a few things.”
Starting with the defense.
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