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Originally published November 1, 2013 at 3:05 PM | Page modified November 1, 2013 at 9:03 PM

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Cougars’ defense getting throttled

Washington State has allowed at least 52 points and an average of 625 yards in consecutive losses to Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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PULLMAN — Back on the night of Sept. 7, it all looked so promising. Washington State had just shut down USC 10-7 to win its Pac-12 football opener, and the possibilities looked bright.

Now the Cougars have done an about-face. Their 55-21 defeat Thursday night against Arizona State dropped them to 4-5, and unless they can coax two victories out of an Arizona-Utah-Washington finish, that means a second consecutive season without a bowl under Mike Leach, who had 10 straight postseasons at Texas Tech.

After a victory at California that opened October, the month was a disaster for WSU. The Cougars allowed 1,874 yards to Oregon State, Oregon and ASU, an average of 625 a game. Those three teams and Stanford have all splattered 52 or more points on WSU.

The latest defeat was an ugly pratfall on ESPN, described aptly by what happened early. WSU’s first four drives began inside its 20 (two inside the 10), and the Cougars struggled even to get a first down. Meanwhile, their defense was no match for quarterback Taylor Kelly and the Sun Devils.

Describing the offensive problems, WSU quarterback Connor Halliday said: “They’re probably the best man-coverage team we’ve faced. We had a lot of trouble getting off press/man coverage. In this offense you’ve got to win man coverage. And when we did win, I missed the throw.”

The Cougars moved the ball only in fits and starts. But Leach said he thought Halliday played well. Halliday was 29 of 54 for 300 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

It was the defense, or lack of, that was most glaring, even as Leach said he thought WSU played hard. In two games against the Cougars, ASU’s Kelly is now 42 of 54 with nine touchdown passes, and he has kept them completely off-balance with zone-read fakes. Combined halftime score in those two matchups of Todd Graham and Leach: Sun Devils, 74-14.

Leach noted that the Cougars played haltingly, much slower than they had in some good practices after WSU’s first bye week of the season.

“Too often,” he said, “we were second-guessing what our assignment was rather than just committing to it.”

Against Stanford, OSU, Oregon and ASU, the Cougars — often burdened by a balky offense and interceptions — have given up 50-plus points to a power team, a pro-style attack and two fast-paced outfits that emphasize mismatches.

With most of their defensive personnel back from 2012, minus defensive end Travis Long, the Cougars are allowing 453 yards a game, compared to 426 a year ago.

As if all these woes weren’t enough, WSU was embarrassed twice on ASU fake punts in the third quarter that went for 20 and 19 yards.

Now WSU has more than two weeks until it plays again, at Arizona on Nov. 16. Along with plenty of time, there’s plenty to work on.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

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