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Originally published Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

After 24 years, it's pointless for Cougs

And so, a piece of Washington State football lore wheezed, teetered and was finally put out of its misery here Saturday. The Cougars fulfilled their...

Seattle Times colleges reporter

PULLMAN — And so, a piece of Washington State football lore wheezed, teetered and was finally put out of its misery here Saturday.

The Cougars fulfilled their appointed rounds, allowing an opponent to score in the 60s for the fourth time in this season of nothingness. This time it was USC, winning 69-0.

It was the first time since 1984 the Cougars were shut out, after getting on the board in 280 straight games. That was the second-longest ongoing streak (Michigan has 295) and the fourth-longest in history.

The disconnect finally happened in WSU's worst loss, after something that united players from Rueben Mayes to Timm Rosenbach to Jason Hanson to Drew Bledsoe to Ryan Leaf to Jason Gesser. WSU got skunked.

Compared to the soul-search immediately ahead, that might be the good news.

"I think our team — a lot of guys are used to losing," blurted out defensive end Andy Mattingly. "It doesn't piss 'em off that we're losing this bad."

It was inevitable that after one woodshedding after another, some signs of fracture would become apparent in this first-year regime. Mattingly broached it, and quarterback Kevin Lopina reinforced it.

"I'm sure we're going to have a [players] meeting," he said. "We're just going to have to find out who's here to compete and play. If you don't want to play, then just turn in your gear. Players are frustrated, coaches are frustrated.

"People have just got to do something about it."

To say the scoring streak went out with a whimper does a disservice to whimpers. It was more like a faint snore.

With its quarterback availability having reached code blue, WSU had Lopina throw just nine times. He completed six for 28 yards. By comparison, the Cougars ran 37 times in a game plan that was one part vanilla, three parts water. WSU never threw deep and never crossed midfield.

Paul Wulff, the first-year coach, heard scattered boos in the dying moments. He shouldn't have. It had to be this way, WSU suddenly as conservative as Sean Hannity.

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Washington State already has lost two quarterbacks for a season scarcely past the halfway point, and Lopina was returning from a broken bone in his back. Responding to a question about whether he was 100 percent, Lopina said, "Probably not. I told people I was. I just kind of sacrificed myself.

"We're just in a really unfortunate situation right now. It called for me to play, so I'll play."

Look no further than WSU's first pass to understand why it had to be like this: USC was ahead 21-0 in the first quarter when Lopina hit Jeshua Anderson for 10 yards, but on the throw, Trojans linebacker Rey Maualuga — the kind of guy who probably isn't very sentimental about WSU's talent shortage and injury list — barreled through on a blitz. He knocked center Kenny Alfred keister-over-teakettle and continued hellbent for Lopina.

You want Lopina dropping back 35 times in the face of that?

Wulff talked about the need to run anyway, something Oregon State did profitably in its mammoth upset of USC on Sept. 25.

"We've had so many injuries," he said. "A large goal was to come out of it healthy. We've got five games to play, and we wanted to protect our quarterback."

The Cougars installed direct-snap plays to tailbacks (the ones who are still upright) and to wide receiver Brandon Gibson. They didn't come within the Idaho border of scoring.

"That's pretty cool, I guess," said USC defensive end Clay Matthews, referring to the streak. "No one told us anything about it."

Ten to nothing, that's what it was in touchdowns. Only a blocked extra point kept USC from 70, which would have equaled the most surrendered in WSU history. As it was, it was the biggest loss, topping the 66-3 defeat to California six weeks ago.

Asked to address the end of the streak, Wulff said, "It's a game. We lost it. We've had so many injuries on offense — quarterbacks out, running backs out, linemen out. We're facing a great defense, [NFL] first-rounders up and down the board.

"I didn't like it, like anybody else. If we could have changed it, we would have."

Maybe even Pete Carroll, the USC coach, would have. He said the game made him "uncomfortable," and he did everything imaginable to keep the score in check, playing four quarterbacks and letting the last 16 seconds of the first half run out with the ball at the WSU 10 and timeouts in his pocket.

See, chivalry is not dead.

Not so for WSU's long scoring streak. You could say it was kind of like Kevin Lopina. The Cougars had to sacrifice it.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

A year to forget
USC shut out the Cougars 69-0 Saturday, WSU's worst loss. The Cougars have suffered 4 of their 8 worst losses in 2008.
Year Opponent Score Margin
2008 USC 69-0 69
2008 California 66-3 63
1922 At California 61-0 61
1955 UCLA 55-0 55
2008 At Oregon St. 66-13 53
2008 Oregon 63-14 49
1969 At Stanford 49-0 49
1967 At USC 49-0 49

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
bwithers@seattletimes.com | 206-464-8281

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