(AP Photo/Jeff Lewis)
Coach Paul Wulff and the Washington State Cougars roared onto the field at the storied Rose Bowl in Pasadena early Saturday evening. The Cougs were ready to take on the UCLA Bruins. Or were they?
Though they spent a lot of time on the field, the WSU defense did something in the first quarter they have yet to do this season. They held the Bruins scoreless for the first fifteen minutes.
With a stable of fine running backs, you would have expected Coach Rick Neuheisel to attack the weakest link on the Cougs defense...the front line.
For much of the first half, WSU stacked the line of scrimmage with eight and nine men. Heck, when a team over-commits that much, even the Trojans would have trouble gaining yardage on the ground.
The gamble paid off. Well, it paid off nicely in the first quarter. Not so much in the second quarter. UCLA quarterback Kevin Craft was allowed to do something other than hand off to a running back. That resulted in two touchdown drives of 64 and 74 yards.
Despite being down 14-0 at halftime, Cougar Nation was anxious for the second half to begin because there was hope this might be the week WSU gets a conference win.
The Cougs came out in the second half and stoked the enthusiasm of their fans by marching down the field nicely before stalling on the Bruin 30 yard line and settling for a 47 yard field goal.
It got better.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Cougar defense forced a three-and-out that had Cougar fans believing this was going to be their game.
Marshall Lobbestael had his offense on the field again for their second possession of the second half. He handed off a couple of times with virtually no result.
Then it happened.
Lobbestael made a freshman mistake, failing to see cornerback Alterraun Verner reading his eyes, stepping in front of the intended target for an interception. That set up the UCLA offense deep in Cougar territory on the 27-yard line.
The Bruins scored.
There was still fight left in the Cougs. Chantz Staden ran back the kickoff to mid-field. It was a dazzling run by the JC transfer. Staden is likely to take one to the house before the season is over. There's little doubt he's going to get plenty of opportunities.
Two penalties zapped the WSU drive.
UCLA put together a monster 18-play 83-yard touchdown drive that ran out the third quarter and ate up about five minutes of the final quarter.
A loss is a loss, but things are getting better for Coach Wulff and the WSU football program. His team has played hard and been destroyed up to now. Against UCLA, the Cougs played hard and made a game of it.
Lobbestael and the offensive line are going to get another week of practice together. That will lead to improved play next week when they travel to Corvallis to take on Oregon State.
In the battle to gain respectability in the Pac-10, UCLA came out with a win to build on.
WSU came away from this loss with game films to study before practice Monday afternoon.