Somebody please tell me it was a bad dream. Tell me the Cougars didn't go into Reser Stadium in Corvallis and dominate Oregon State for the first half only to apparently toss the game plan that worked so well completely out the window in the second half. Tell me the Cougs didn't really have all their five turnovers - four picks and a fumble - in the second half. Tell me the Cougs didn't essentially abandon the run in the second half after Jerome Harrison had over 100 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. Tell me WSU didn't consistently spot the Beavers to excellent field position with returnable squib kickoffs.
For two quarters, the Cougs looked like a team prepared to make a statement. At the half, WSU was very much in control - sitting pretty on the right side of a 30-16 score. Everything seemed to be going so well. Alex Brink was hot, and had well over two hundred yards and a touchdown to Jason Hill. Hill was coming up huge, and had 7 catches for 179 yards and the 20 yard TD. Harrison looked on his way to a huge game. The Beavers offensively were beginning to look flustered while the Cougars had scored on four of their first five possessions before taking a knee with the ball to end the half on their sixth possession. All was well in the world and WSU looked like a team that could well be the dark horse conference contender Cougar fans were hoping for this year.
Then, depression set in and the wheels fell off. The Cougar team that played the first half put on street clothes and drifted into the Corvallis streets while rank imposters broke into the locker room, put on uniforms, and took the field. The second half was nothing short of a complete meltdown and complete disaster. Although he would finish 31 for 59 for a WSU single game passing record of 531 yards, Brink looked erratic and flustered on his way to throwing four picks. One set the Beavers up at the WSU 10 and led quickly to a Beaver score (30-23 WSU), one went back immediately for an OSU touchdown (30-30 tie), and two were picked in the OSU redzone with one being returned all the way to the Cougar 26 and leading to OSU's final score (33-44 OSU). Here is the litany of the Cougar offensive second half woe - read at your own risk: 1) first possession - 3 and out; 2) second possession - 3 and out; 3) third possession - pick setting up OSU at the WSU 10; 4) fourth possession - 5 and punt with the last three plays consisting of an incomplete pass, a tackle for loss, and a sack; 5) fifth possession - 5 and punt; 6) sixth possession - pick for OSU touchdown; 7) seventh possession - 77 yard drive and a 23 yard field goal after WSU had a first and goal on the OSU one yard line; 8) eight possession - Michael Bumpus fumbles on his way to what would have been a vital score, three plays later OSU scores a touchdown; 9) ninth possession - pick in OSU redzone; 10) tenth possession - pick in OSU redzone making the game effectively over; 11) eleventh possession - time runs out, game over.
Friends, it doesn't get much worse than that.
Fans will debate play calling, and it's easy to armchair quarterback this one. Crunching the numbers only helps the armchair temptation. In the first half, the Cougars had a nice balanced offense - 22 running plays against 24 passing. It clearly worked. 30 points. Brink on fire. Hill and Harrison both looking at record setting games. The defense playing well and OSU beginning to abandon the run. In the second half, it's as if the Cougars panicked. WSU all but abandoned the run and took to the air with severely mixed results - running 35 passing plays against only 11 rushing attempts. 11 carries in the entire second half for Harrison, who had three TDs and over a hundred yards in the first half. Confusing, isn't it?
Adding injury to the insult, the Cougars came away dinged up. Will Derting now is sporting a damaged knee and looks to be out for two to three weeks. Hill went out with an injury to his thigh and missed most of the second half. Alex Teems - who had a pretty good game including an endzone pick to stop a Beaver drive - went out with a sprained left shoulder.
Even the special teams let the Cougs down. Kickoffs were nothing short of horrible. Whether he was following the coaches' instructions or not, Graham Siderius's squib kicks were positively killers. Oregon State consistently came up with outstanding field position following the kick. The Beavs didn't have to start a drive on their own 20 until late in the game. Loren Langley hit his field goal attempts, but doinked a PAT off an upright. Kyle Basler flat out did not punt well. While the Beavs were pinning the Cougs back at their own three, the Cougar punts were shorter line drives that allowed returns - in one case leading to a net punt of less than ten yards.
There were still some bright spots. Don Turner played a good game including bringing in an endzone pick, and may be settling into the promise he showed as a freshman. The linebacker corps had an excellent game overall. Langley continues to be money on his field goal attempts.
The Cougars clearly have their work cut out for them. A win over OSU would have meant tons to a Cougar team looking to find its way back to a bowl and to erase the memory of a frustrating 5-6 season. Suddenly, although seven games still remain, things look to be an uphill climb to get to 6-5 or better. The remaining schedule is through the class of the Pac-10 - ASU, USC, and the like. The next game against Stanford now looms large as an absolute must-win for WSU if they want to have a hope of a bowl this season.
CougZone Player of the Game: Jerome Harrison Despite getting half the carries in the second half as he did in the first, Harrison finished the day with 31 carries for 124 yards and touchdowns of 2, 5, and 3 yards.