Stanford, Calif. – The Washington State Cougars surprised most football fans by giving 19th-ranked Stanford a major scare Saturday, but WSU players were too busy kicking themselves in the shorts to spend much time patting themselves on the back.
“We thought we were better than this team,” cornerback Anthony Carpenter said.
“I believe that we are a great team. We really are. We’ve just to get over that hump.”
Linebacker Justin Sagote said close losses and strong defensive efforts against Stanford and then-No. 14 Oregon State have bolstered the confidence of WSU’s young squad.
“It tells us we’re good,” Sagote said. “We can hang with these teams. We’ve just got to put it all together.”
Despite the disappointment of a fifth consecutive loss, the Cougars were pleased with their effort at Stanford.
“We need to keep growing up, but I thought we improved,” coach Mike Leach said.
“We came up short, but I’m still happy with our performance,” said Sagote, who grew up in nearby Santa Clara and played in front of about 20 friends and family members.
Carpenter, a former safety who started ahead of Damante Horton for the second straight game, said, “This is no moral victory. We lost a game, so I’m a little upset. But I’m still proud of what we did.”
Quarterback Jeff Tuel, despite being sacked 10 times and taking some vicious hits, set career highs with 60 pass attempts, 43 completions (a school record) and 401 passing yards.
Tuel was sacked five times in the first quarter alone, and WSU finished with negative rushing yards for the third time this season because of the sacks.
Still, Leach’s pass-happy offense picked apart Stanford’s big, rugged defense with a steady supply of short passes. Tuel rarely had time to go deep, but he threw a gorgeous 42-yard bomb to Marquess Wilson on the final drive of the game.
“To tell you the truth, this is not what our offense is capable of,” wide receiver Dominique Williams said. “We’re capable of a lot more.”
WSU fans would gladly settle for more of the same from Tuel, a senior who started for just the fifth time in two injury-plagued seasons.
“He played pretty well,” Leach said. “I thought he played tough. I thought he kept drives going.”
The Cougars outgained Stanford in total yards (385-256) and nearly doubled the Cardinal in first downs (25-13). WSU’s oft-maligned defense battled ferociously, holding quarterback Josh Nunes to 7-for-15 passing for 136 yards (70 on one touchdown) and limiting star running back Stepfan Taylor to a season-low 58 rushing yards one week after he racked up a career-high 189 against California.
“We played well,” Leach said. “We played hard. We played a complete game.”
“We’ve just got to keep playing as a team,” Williams said, “because we play for each other. We’re all family.”