TEMPE, Ariz. – The Washington State Cougars, who do not hesitate to go to the air on offense, have good reason to be very hesitant to take to the air for road games.
The Cougars extended two of the longest losing streaks in school history Saturday when they dropped their eighth straight game overall and their 10th straight Pacific-12 Conference game outside Pullman, bowing to Arizona State, 46-7.
Just as they did in their previous road game, a 49-6 loss at Utah two weeks ago, the Cougars (2-9 overall, 0-8 Pac-12) were blown out while dropping passes, missing tackles and giving up sacks with stunning regularity. The other notable similarity to the Utah game was that only a last-minute touchdown prevented a shutout.
“I don’t think we attacked adversity well,” WSU center Elliott Bosch said.
“We played hard, then we went frantic when we faced adversity,” WSU coach Mike Leach said.
“We’d run hard and miss tackles. We’d run (pass) routes hard and try to (get) up field before the ball got there and drop balls.”
The Sun Devils (6-5, 4-4), who had lost four games in a row – all to current Top 25 teams – obviously relished the opportunity to beat up on an inferior opponent on Senior Day. The victory made Arizona State bowl eligible.
“We totally dominated,” ASU coach Todd Graham said. “I was furious at the end that our twos (reserves) let them score … (we) deserved a shutout.”
The Sun Devils had a 32-0 led at halftime. Connor Halliday replaced Jeff Tuel at quarterback in the second quarter for WSU, and Leach said he was undecided whether Halliday or Tuel will start Friday in the season finale against visiting Washington (12:30 p.m., Ch. 13).
Arizona State topped the Cougars, 561-241, in total yards – including 301-240 in passing yards and 260-1 in rushing yards. WSU converted on third down just once in 16 tries, and once on four fourth-down tries.
The Cougars offered differing opinions on whether star receiver Marquess Wilson’s departure from the team and his widely publicized criticism of the coaches was a distraction that may have affected WSU’s performance.
“It could have,” Leach said. “Clearly, there’s some distraction to it.”
Sun Devils sophomore Taylor Kelly set a school record by completing 18 consecutive passes (his final 18). He came out of the game late in the third quarter after completing 20 of 23 passes for 246 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
“They spread us out well and there were a lot of one-on-one matchups, which are tough,” said WSU safety Deone Bucannon, who tied a career high with 17 tackles.
WSU gave up seven more sacks (53 for the season).
“My head’s spinning a little bit,” Halliday said more than 30 minutes after the game while sporting a bloody gash on his nose.
Halliday completed 13 of 33 passes for 173 yards – 54 on the late TD in a half-empty stadium. Official attendance (tickets distributed) was 53,438.
“It’s just tough to get offense at all when you’ve got dropped balls, (and) we’ve got two to three people (pass rushers) coming untouched through the line,” Halliday said.
Tuel passed for 67 yards on went 8-for-16 accuracy. Leach said he benched Tuel because he “was kind of struggling. Of course, he had some ‘help.’ ”
Halliday admitted to missing a few reads. Like Tuel, Halliday’s one interception came on a ball thrown nowhere close to anyone but ASU senior safety Keelan Johnson.
The Sun Devils scored on all four first-half drives that started on WSU’s half of the field.
“We put our defense in a terrible spot,” Halliday said.
The Cougars set single-season school records for pass attempts (571) and completions (330). The respective Pac-12 records of 621 and 398 are within reach.