Neuheisel gets best of Cougars again
Cougars let game slip away
Seattle Times colleges reporter
PASADENA, Calif. — With a quarter left here at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night, two teams gathered on opposite sidelines, confronting their dubious recent history.
On one side, the UCLA Bruins, just 17-25 under Rick Neuheisel, fighting for a sliver of respect, and no doubt, Neuheisel's job.
On the other, the Washington State Cougars, trying to prove they're legit after three of the most miserable years of crimson football in history under Paul Wulff.
Who would flinch?
Turned out to be the Cougars, and their fans had one more reason to cringe over Neuheisel, who won his ninth game — against zero defeats — for three schools against WSU (3-2). The Bruins won at the wire, 28-25.
There have been all sorts of gut-bombing losses among those nine, but this ranks among the most galling.
"It hurts a lot," said WSU defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi. "We could have won that game. I didn't feel they were better than us in any way. I don't feel the better team won."
The killing blow was registered with 2:01 left, when Bruins cornerback Andrew Abbott stepped in front of an errant Marshall Lobbestael pass on third-and-five at the WSU 47 and snatched it at the UCLA 49. It was the Cougs' only turnover.
"Marquess (Wilson) was trying to get open," said Wulff, explaining that Marquess Wilson was making a move and the ball came to where he had just been. "He 'ghosted' (Lobbestael). The defensive back just stepped right in front of him."
These first five games were seen by WSU faithful as the place where the season would be made. They figured 3-2 was a minimum, 5-0 was house money.
What they didn't count on was Jeff Tuel's broken clavicle in the first game. He wasn't cleared to go for this game, and maybe, in the end, though Lobbestael was gutty and relatively efficient, that final dagger of an interception doesn't happen with the first-stringer on the field. We'll never know.
The Cougars discovered a ground game, rushing for 154 yards, and held UCLA to 170, or 267 less than the Bruins amassed against WSU last year. If you knew those numbers going in, you'd have figured the Cougs for a celebratory flight home.
"Like I told the players, we played a good football game," said Wulff. "We just didn't capitalize when we were in the red zone. Give them (the Bruins) credit. They made big plays at the end to win it."
Not that WSU didn't have multiple chances. The Cougars' Andrew Furney kicked four field goals, as WSU struggled when the field was compressed.
Ahead 22-20 as the game moved past the midway point of the final quarter, the Cougars were driving, with a chance to put a stranglehold on the game. But Lobbestael appeared to throw a pass behind an open Jared Karstetter over the middle, and WSU, instead of punching in a big touchdown, settled for another Furney field goal from 47 yards away.
Through much of the night, the Bruins displayed some of the enigmatic tendencies that have Angelenos wondering what's amiss in Westwood. There were familiar themes: A quarterback getting hurt (again), receivers running open but missed, just a general malaise that seems to envelop them.
At one point in the first half, the Cougars, never a team equated with ball control, had run 30 plays to UCLA's six, and the Bruins didn't have a first down at that point. But for all its ball-hogging, WSU revisited an old problem — its offense isn't exactly suited for outmuscling folks in the red zone.
So after Furney's two field goals, the Bruins started marching, mustering their initial first down with 12:10 left in the second quarter. But their seemingly ceaseless quarterback woes struck again, right about the time Neuheisel called Richard Brehaut's number on a couple of quarterback keepers.
On the second one, Brehaut rushed for 5 yards but came up limping, taken to the locker room with a fractured leg. On came Kevin Prince, and he proved to be the pilot light for the Bruins, throwing a 58-yard pass to Nelson Rosario in the final five minutes to set up the winning touchdown.
Before the game, I figured some likely odds on the Cougars getting to a bowl game. Win it, and they were probably a 60 percent bet to get to the postseason. Lose, and maybe it drops to 30 percent.
This one was right there for the taking.
And UCLA, Rick Neuheisel again, took it.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-12.
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