PULLMAN – When Bill Moos returned to his alma mater two years ago to take over as athletic director, he stressed how much he loathed the phrase “Cougin’ it.”
To Moos’ chagrin, Saturday afternoon’s homecoming football game at Washington State was a classic example of “Cougin’ it.”
Jordan Webb ran untouched through a gaping hole on a quarterback draw on fourth down to tie the game with 9 seconds remaining, and Will Oliver kicked the extra point to give Colorado a 35-34 win over WSU.
The Cougars, favored by 191/2 points over a winless Colorado team coming off a 55-point loss at Fresno State, blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Colorado’s other fourth-quarter touchdowns consisted of a 70-yard pass over the middle to wide-open tight end Nick Kasa, and an 84-yard run by Tony Jones in which two Cougars ran into each other as they approached Jones near the line of scrimmage.
“We’re a mentally weak team,” WSU coach Mike Leach said.
“In my opinion,” Cougars cornerback Daniel Simmons said, “we lost to a team that we are far better than.”
The game was the Pacific-12 Conference opener for both teams. WSU (2-2 overall) may be the underdog in every game the remainder of the season, starting with the annual Seattle “home” game with third-ranked Oregon (7:30 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2) at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.
CBSSports.com ranked Colorado 120th among the 124 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (WSU was 86th). The Buffaloes also ranked among the worst teams in the country in a boatload of offensive and defensive statistics, but Colorado (1-3) topped WSU in total offense (531 yards to 451), including 255-72 in the fourth quarter.
“We just broke down (in the fourth quarter), stopped playing hard,” WSU running back Teondray Caldwell said.
“We need to quit playing stupid in the second half,” quarterback Connor Halliday said. “Droppin’ balls, bad checks by me, turnovers, stupid plays.”
Halliday, starting for the second consecutive week with Jeff Tuel nursing a knee injury, again threw four touchdown passes and two interceptions. Both picks Saturday came deep in Colorado territory before 31,668 fans.
Halliday completed 32 passes (tied for fourth in school history for a single game) in 60 attempts (second to Drew Bledsoe’s 66 in 1992) for 401 yards (13th).
Asked to sum up Halliday’s performance, Leach said, “Sporadic. His good stuff was good. He’s not afraid to make a play. We’ve got to reel him in a little bit.”
Webb, despite being sacked six times and pressured constantly, finished 29-for-42 passing for 345 yards, two TDs and one interception.
“He was real calm and cool, and I’m proud of him,” Colorado coach Jon Embree said.
Caldwell spiced up WSU’s dormant running game with 72 often dazzling yards on 10 carries. The speedy true freshman averaged 38.3 yards on three kickoff returns.
The best player on the field may have been WSU linebacker Travis Long. The Spokane senior harassed Webb all game and made some outstanding plays while finishing with seven tackles (six solo), a forced fumble and 21/2 sacks.
“Travis Long played really well,” Leach said. “It (the game) meant a lot to him. He invested a lot out there on the field, and it meant a lot to him to not be successful.
“We need more people that approach it that way. We’ve got too many people that losing and not being successful is too easy to brush off: ‘Oh well, that’s how the cookie crumbles.’
“Well, no. That’s not good enough.”
Redshirt freshman Nelson Spurce led Colorado receivers with eight catches for 103 yards and a TD. True freshman Gabe Marks led WSU with seven catches for 107 yards and one touchdown. Teammate Marquess Wilson had five catches for 99 yards and two TDs.