TUCSON, Ariz. – The headline, plastered across the top of Page 1 of the Tucson daily newspaper’s sports section Saturday, read: Cats fear hungry Cougars.
Wow. Only elastic provides a bigger stretch.
The Arizona Wildcats, 32-point favorites, topped that by halftime and had to pull starters early and all but abandon their explosive passing attack to “only” beat Washington State, 48-7, Saturday afternoon at Arizona Stadium.
The 21st-ranked Wildcats led 34-0 at halftime after scoring all five times they touched the ball. It all started with a 95-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff, when no Cougars player came close to touching Travis Cobb.
“The Cougars may be one of the nation’s worst teams,” the Tucson newspaper reported, “but they’re anything but a walkover.”
Well, the story was half right.
A sixth straight loss dropped WSU to 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the Pacific-10 Conference. It was the third straight game in which the Cougars gave up 40 or more points and more than 470 yards. Only the 52-6 loss at Oregon was more lopsided this season.
Adding injury to insult, WSU lost starting quarterback Jeff Tuel to a kneecap dislocation midway through the second quarter. Tuel watched on crutches as Marshall Lobbestael played the rest of the way, and coach Paul Wulff said Tuel’s status for next Saturday’s home game with UCLA (2 p.m., Fox College Sports) is uncertain.
“When you see one of your friends go down like that, it’s a crappy feeling,” Lobbestael said.
Backup safety Kyle McCartney became the third WSU defensive back to go down with a broken leg this season. Freshman safety Jay Matthews, making his first start due to Chima Nwachukwu’s ankle injury, sat out the second half with a shoulder dislocation.
Tyson Pencer returned to the starting lineup at offensive left tackle, but he quickly left with a sprained ankle after giving up two of the five sacks allowed by WSU. Pencer’s status is uncertain, but Wulff said he believes Matthews will play next week.
“You play young guys, and physically, they don’t match their opponent,” Wulff said. “That’s where we’re at.”
“They play hard, they’re just not developed yet,” said Adam Grant, the starting offensive right tackle for Arizona from Puyallup High School. “They’re going to be a good team in a few years.”
As usual, the Cougars were manhandled in the trenches, with Arizona quarterbacks rarely getting touched and WSU quarterbacks scrambling constantly.
A sun-kissed homecoming crowd of 50,242 fans gave their approval as the Wildcats substituted liberally, spreading out the individual stats.
The WSU defense couldn’t stop the run or pass; special teams gave up long touchdowns on the kickoff return and an 86-yard punt return; and WSU lost the total-yardage battle, 471-185, despite a late 64-yard touchdown bomb from Lobbestael to Jared Karstetter. Arizona ran off nearly twice as many plays (78-42), had the ball more than twice as long (41 minutes to 19 minutes) and set a season high for points.
Karstetter, a sophomore from Spokane, provided one of the precious few Cougars highlights by hauling in the Lobbestael pass with one hand despite tight one-on-one coverage from reserve cornerback Mike Turner.
“Marshall called the audible when he saw the coverage,” Karstetter said after his sixth touchdown catch of the year.
The baby-faced Cougars, who lack speed, experience and size, are 3-19 in Wulff’s two seasons as coach. The 19 defeats ties the school record for losses in back-to-back seasons, set by the 2-19 Cougars of 1969-70.
The Cougars must win one of their three remaining games to avoid breaking the Pac-10 record of 21 losses in back-to-back seasons (tied most recently by Washington last year). WSU also needs a win to avoid tying last year’s school record of 11 losses.
“The players’ effort is outstanding,” Wulff said. “The attitude is good.”
“This game is meant to be fun, regardless of the score,” said outside linebacker Andy Mattingly, who had a season-high 11 tackles. “You’ve got to keep having fun. As soon as you stop having fun, it can be real difficult to go out and play.”