An offseason of unparalleled excitement ground to a halt in less than two quarters for Washington State’s football team Thursday night in Provo, UT.
Or, perhaps that was the running game.
The crimson Cougars managed minus-five yards rushing and were nearly as helpless everywhere else in a 30-6 loss at Brigham Young. The thrashing came in front of an ESPN national television audience and spoiled Mike Leach’s return to coaching after a three-year hiatus.
A nightmarish first half began when quarterback Jeff Tuel drove the Cougs deep into BYU territory early in the first quarter on a 14-play, 57-yard drive. On third-and-11 from the BYU 23-yard line, Tuel scrambled, then forced a throw to Gabe Marks down the right sideline. A BYU defender tipped the ball into the air before Uona Kaveinga made a diving interception.
The blue Cougars responded with a 10-play, 80-yard drive that culminated with a seven-yard strike from quarterback Riley Nelson to Skyler Ridley for a 7-0 lead. After a WSU three-and-out, BYU marched methodically down the field by utilizing a series of short passes and quick runs. The WSU defense finally held on third-and-one when Nelson tried a sneak up the middle.
BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall then burned a timeout to insert backup freshman quarterback Taysom Hill. The former Idaho prep player of the year rolled out to his right and found Kaneakua Friel in the corner of the end zone to give BYU a 14-point advantage.
After an exchange of field goals, Nelson found Friel streaking down the left side to give BYU a 24-3 lead with 1:43 remaining in the first half.
Aided by a series of BYU penalties, WSU threatened to score before time expired. But a late play exemplified a night of offensive futility.
Tuel lofted a ball to Marquess Wilson in the back corner of the end zone. The preseason All-America leaped over three defenders to pull down the reception, dragging his foot inbounds.
The spectacular play was called back when left tackle John Fullington was called for holding.
Andrew Furney kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired to cut the lead to 24-6, but the penalty crushed WSU’s minimal momentum.
A bad first half for Tuel quickly turned worse. Teondray Caldwell returned the third-quarter kickoff third quarter inside BYU’s 40-yard line. On first down, BYU’s Kyle Van Noy cracked the WSU signal caller for a seven-yard loss, which was followed by a holding penalty. Two players later, Tuel telegraphed his second interception, a badly thrown ball intended for Wilson that Jordan Johnson returned 69 yards to the WSU nine-yard line.
The crimson Cougars held BYU to a field goal, but the 27-6 lead proved insurmountable on a night the Air Raid Offense looked feeble. Tuel finished his season debut 30-for-45 for 229 yards. Wilson led WSU with four receptions for 61 yards but appeared visibly upset late in the game when Tuel failed to find him multiple times. His two deep receptions were wiped out earlier by holding penalties.
The loss pushed Leach to 9-2 all-time in season openers and moved WSU to 1-3 against BYU. WSU finished with just 224 total yards of offense and didn’t score a touchdown after averaging 322.3 yards per contest in 2011.