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October 23, 2005Were it not for fourth quarters, the bowl-bound Cougars would sit pretty at 6-1 right now and all would be right for the Cougar faithful. As it is, the Cougs are 0-4 in the Pac-10 and no lead is safe. This Cougar team seems to have forgotten how to win games and instead finds ways to lose.
The Cougars came back from the disaster that was the end of the second quarter to erase an 18 point Cal lead with a tremendously dominating third quarter. The Cougs rattled off 28 unanswered points - 22 in the third and 6 in the fourth quarters - to hold a ten point lead early in the fourth. Then the Cougars did what they've been doing since Pac-10 play began and collapsed. Offensive players failed to make plays. The defense suffered crucial breakdowns at key times. The result was in four of the last six minutes of the fourth quarter Cal had erased the lead and scored two touchdowns to go on top 38-42. The Cougars were unable to capitalize on the final 1:50 of play and another painful loss went into the books.
This year's team does not seem capable of putting a full game together. In this one, the Cougars played overall well in the first quarter and had the dominating third quarter. The second and fourth quarters were disasters. If Cougar fans are discouraged, think how the Cougar players and coaches must feel. Oog.
The collapse eclipsed a career night for Jason Hill. In his first time back near 100%, Hill simply went off on big plays for the Cougs. Hill ended the day with a tremendous 240 yards on six catches with three touchdowns. All of Hill's touchdowns came in the third quarter and all were long - two 38 yarders and one for 62 yards. The scores not only put the Cougars in front, they moved Hill's career touchdown total to 23 - a new Cougar record that eclipsed the old record of 22 set by Hugh Campbell from 1960-62.
Other receivers stepped up as well. The Cougs opened up scoring when Brandon Gibson brought in a deep pass along the right sideline - turning the catch and run into a 66 yard touchdown. Chris Jordan made a circus catch in the fourth quarter for the Cougars' final score. Jordan laid out and dragged a foot in the far right of the endzone to bring in the touchdown.
Eclipsed by the loss also was an outstanding effort by Jerome Harrison. Harrison had his tenth consecutive game of over 100 yards, racking up 162 yards on 26 carries. All this with an obviously painful shoulder that caused Harrison to spend time on the sidelines.
After Cal had not allowed a passing touchdown at home in five games, Alex Brink made up for lost time with five touchdown throws on the game. Brink would finish 18 of 39 for 423 yards and the five touchdowns. Brink also had two immensely costly interceptions. Both picks came late in the second quarter with the score 10-14 Cal. On third and 10 at the Cougar 18, Brink threw into the arms of Cal linebacker Greg Van Hoesen who trotted into the endzone untouched. On the very next possession on first down at the Cougar 33, Brink again threw a pick to Cal's Tim Mixon that was returned to the Cougar 3 and led to another Cal score in short order.
Defensively, the Cougars gave up a total of 548 yards to the Bears - yardage evenly split between rushing and passing. Cal receivers repeatedly beat the Cougar cornerbacks. The WSU safeties - Husain Abdullah and particularly Eric Frampton - played well overall with Abdullah bringing in two interceptions and Frampton making many (too many) key tackles. The linebacker corps led by Scott Davis had a strong showing against the run, but Cal found ways to exploit coverage matchups against the group. Many Cal passing yards came over Cougar linebackers forced into coverage mismatches.
Cal found plenty of running room against the Cougar defensive line. It was not a strong showing by the WSU unit who were often times pushed around and out of the way by Cal, leaving gaping holes. Pass defense by the line was much better. The Cougar ends were able to mount effective pressure at times with the standout by far being Mkristo Bruce. Bruce finished the day with two sacks, and came close to several more.
Special teams were a mixed and mostly ugly bag. One positive was Mike Graise who played very well on coverage teams. With Michael Bumpus lost - possibly for some time - due to a high ankle sprain and Harrison dinged up, the Cougars were left looking for answers at punt returner. The answer was not Don Turner. Inserted into the spot out of necessity, Turner was plainly uncomfortable and nearly caused a turnover deep in Cougar territory on a bobbled punt. The bullet was dodged when Cal knocked the bouncing ball out of bounds, and Trandon Harvey went in at the spot instead for the balance of the game.
Punts were solid, and Loren Langley kicked well, hitting his sole field goal attempt from 22 yards. A blocked PAT on the Cougars' final score would prove critical. The block meant the Cougars were down by four instead of three with their final possession of the game and time ticking down. The Cougars were able to get close to field goal range, but that meant nothing when WSU needed a touchdown.
This team and the staff are frustrated, reeling, and discouraged. So are the fans. The Cougars are finding ways to lose and the fourth quarter has become a nightmare for WSU. With four games remaining, the Cougars must mount a tremendous effort to qualify for a bowl. That seems possibly too much to ask as a better question is whether the Cougs will manage a win to avoid going 0-fer the Pac-10 this season.
CougZone Player of the Game - Jason Hill: Hill had literally a career night for the Cougars although a dropped pass that would have converted a third and long late in the fourth quarter could have meant the difference.