The road to bowl eligibility became just a little bit tougher for Washington State as the Cougars fell to ASU 55-21 on Thursday night in Pullman, Wash.
After a bye-week, the Cougar’s struggled to overcome dropped passes, missed tackles and other mental lapses as WSU found themselves down 21-0 after the first quarter,
“I think we spent too much time focusing on our opponent then we do our job,” head coach Mike Leach said. “Something good happens for our opponent and I think we allow it to distract us away from our job.”
It only got worse after the first quarter.
WSU (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) struggled to get ay footing at all on offense, going three-and-out three times in it’s first three possessions and losing a sophomore wide receiver Gabe Marks fumble that led to an ASU (6-2, 4-1 Pac-12) touchdown in the first quarter.
However, the Cougars would finally find the end zone on the first play of the second quarter when redshirt junior quarterback Connor Halliday found Marks for a 34-yard touchdown strike to cut the Sun Devil lead to 21-7.
Halliday finished 29-of-54 for 300 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“I did think Connor (Halliday) played well,” Leach said. “He didn’t have a lot of time to throw, he got sacked twice, and then I think he did a good job keeping the sideline up.”
Leach said he was happy with the way Halliday played, and how he never gave up.
“He was constantly in the game,” Leach said. “I thought he constantly picked up the sideline. I think (he was) pretty productive against a very good secondary, probably the best secondary in the conference I think…I did think he played well and I do think this is one of the best games that he’s played.”
Down by only 14 it looked like momentum may start to swing back in the Cougars favor. After a recovering a fumble from ASU redshirt junior running back Deantre Lewis at their own 36-yard line, the Cougars had a chance, but the offense failed to do anything with the turnover, going three-and-out again for a total of -13 yards.
“I thought there was some momentum,” Leach said. “I thought we played hard, wanted to make too much happen, we hesitated and in the end we couldn’t overcome our self-inflicted wounds and we had a lot of self-inflicted wounds.”
ASU would score on its next three straight possessions to extend the lead to 42-7 with 1:40 left in the half.
But the Cougars weren’t done scrapping.
WSU would go 75 yards in 1:20 and score on a 15-yard pass from Halliday to redshirt junior wide receiver Rickey Galvin to make it 42-14 at halftime.
The second half would start better than the first for WSU, but the damage was already done.
After forcing a punt form the Sun Devils on their opening possession of the half, the Cougars marched 74 yards and scored on a 4-yard rush from redshirt sophomore running back Jeremiah Laufasa.
It would be the final time the Cougars would get in the end zone.
While the Cougars’ offense struggled, the defense’s struggles were even worse.
WSU’s defense had no answers for the Sun Devils, who piled up 557 total yards including 282 rushing yards.
ASU redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly also torched the Cougar defense to the tune of 275 passing yards, five passing touchdowns and an interception.
Kelly also gashed the Cougars on the ground with the zone-read, rushing 13 times for 66 yards and two more touchdowns.
Leach said the play was “way more difficult than it should have been” to defend.
“Too often I think we were second-guessing what our assignment was rather than just committing to it,” Leach said.
WSU will try to rebound when it visits Tucson on Nov. 16 for a matchup against the UA Wildcats.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EricSmith_SP