The game ended for the WSU Cougars much like it began, with quarterback Jeff Tuel on his back.
A ferocious pass rush negated 401-yards passing from Tuel as the Stanford Cardinal survived a last-minute rally from the Cougars, winning 24-17 Saturday at Stanford Stadium.
The Cardinal defensive line proved their advertised skill by collecting 10 sacks, including six in the first half, while holding the Cougars to negative-16 yards rushing in the game.
“There was a mismatch there, their front and ours,” Head Coach Mike Leach said after the game.
Stanford struck first, moving the ball down to WSU’s 25-yard line before the drive stalled. The Cardinal settled for a 42-yard field goal from Jordan Williamson to take a 3-0 lead.
After trading punts for the rest of the quarter, wide receiver Dominique Williams sparked the Cougars offense with a 43-yard catch to put the ball at the Stanford six-yard line. Williams capped off the 11-play, 88-yard-drive a few plays later with a beautiful 3-yard touchdown grab to put the Cougars on top at 7-3.
The Cougars led briefly, but Stanford quarterback Josh Nunes took advantage of blown coverage from the WSU secondary. He found a wide open Jamal-Rashad Patterson for a 70-yard touchdown to take back the lead 10-7.
Nearing halftime, a stellar defensive stand by the Cougars forced a Cardinal three-and-out giving WSU the ball back and a chance to tie or take the lead with less than two minutes to play.
Tuel used his legs and arm to move WSU 57 yards down to the Cardinal six-yard line. Andrew Furney then chipped in a 24-yard field goal with two seconds remaining to tie the game at 10.
Nunes and Stanford regrouped at the half and began the third quarter looking more like the No. 19 nationally ranked team. They started with a 13-play, 78-yard drive ending with a 1-yard touchdown run from fullback Ryan Hewitt.
Both defensive units held the opposing offenses in check forcing punt after punt, but the biggest defensive play of the game came from Stanford safety Ed Reynolds with 10:43 remaining in the fourth quarter. Reynolds followed Tuel’s eyes on a third down play and intercepted the quarterback’s pass, taking it back 25-yards for a touchdown.
Tuel shook off the pick and drove the Cougars 65-yards down to the Stanford 10-yard line before finding Kristoff Williams in the end zone for a 10-yard score. This made it a 17-24 game.
With the lead cut to seven, the defense again stood firm as Xavier Cooper sacked Nunes on a third down play to force a Stanford punt and give the Cougars the ball back with 3:37 seconds left in the game.
Tuel quickly moved the Cougars into Stanford territory when he found Marquess Wilson streaking down the field for a 42-yard gain to put the ball at the Stanford 23-yard line.
However, an illegal chop block penalty set the Cougars back 15-yards. Trent Murphy then sacked Tuel on the next play to set up a fourth down and 21 with less than a minute remaining.
With the game on the line, Bobby Ratliff caught the ball and moved down to the nine–yard line.
Hopes were short-lived though, as referees called Tuel for intentional grounding on the next play as from attempting to avoid pressure applied by Usua Amanam. The penalty, by rule, required a ten-second run off from the clock because the infraction occurred with less than one minute remaining in regulation.
With no timeouts, the Cougars hurried to the line to snap the ball as time ran under 15-seconds, but their efforts failed as Henry Anderson collected the tenth and final sack of the day, sealing the Stanford victory.
After the game, Tuel explained that some miscommunication on the final play between him and Wilson factored into the sack, but ultimately he took responsibility.
“Bottom line is I can’t take a sack in that situation, there is no excuse for it,” Tuel said
Although the loss dropped the Cougars to 2-6 , keeping them winless in Pac-12 Conference play, they fought throughout and impressed on both sides of the ball.
“We outplayed them in most important aspects of the game,” Leach said. “But they had that sense, that go for the kill, that expectation that we as a team need to get. We need to keep growing up, but I thought we improved.”
The Cougars travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, to take on the Utes next Saturday.