It takes two: QBs keep Cougs in the game

ON A NIGHT WHEN the special teams' effort was abysmal, and controversy swirled in the air, it was the Cougars' quarterbacks who turned what many expected to be a laughable effort into anything but in a hard-fought battle with UCLA.

Despite Washington State's inability to close the door on the Bruins and get their first conference win of the Mike Leach era, it was the hardest they had fought all season.

And Leach took notice.

"We closed the gap and did some really good things," he said in a postgame radio interview. "I was really proud of the way our guys played."

Starting quarterback Jeff Tuel got the Cougars downfield and into position for a field goal on their first drive of the game. Unfortunately, it was blocked and returned for a touchdown, but he looked sharp in the drive, and Washington State dominated The Opening period.

Unfortunately, Tuel was knocked out of the game the same quarter on a hard hit. The extent of his injuries is unknown, but there is speculation that he reinjured the collarbone that sidelined him most of the 2011 season. He completed 11 of 14 passes for 127 yards.

Connor Halliday took his spot and threw for four second-half touchdowns and 330 yards on 26-of-43 passing. The third, to freshman Dominique Williams, with 6:25 left, cut WSU's deficit to 44-28. It was the sophomore's first career five-touchdown game.

Still, Leach said he's "not sure" if he'll give Halliday another shot at starting if Tuel is healthy enough to play Saturday at Arizona State.

"I think Connor hadn't taken a lot of reps," Leach said in reference to Halliday playing better during the second half. "Settling down was one thing. He started taking what they gave him and took the routine plays they gave him."

Halliday felt similarly about his first-half performance.

"I don't think I was going through my reads the way I needed to," he said. "Then, when I did, I wasn't as accurate as I needed to be."

On the other hand, he added, "We were able to come out and compete in the second half."

After the 44-36 loss, some on CF.C questioned whether the quarterback switch contributed to the Cougars' loss – whether it rattled the players, but Williams was succinct in his reply.

"We run our route, catch and turn up field," he said. "It doesn't matter what quarterback is in."

NOTABLE NOTES • Washington State's 524 yards of total offense were a season high; as was its 96-yard touchdown drive.

  • Senior BUCK linebacker Travis Long's two sacks brings his season total to 9.5 and career total to 20.5, the sixth-most in school history. His 9.5 sacks this season is the most by a Cougar since Mkristo Bruce had 11 in 2006.

    Long also made three tackles-for-loss, bringing his season total to 13 and career total to 42, the fourth-most in school history.

    His nine tackles matched his career high.

  • Junior nose tackle Ioane Guata recovered the first fumble of his career.

  • Williams caught the second and third touchdown passes of his career. He finished the day with seven passes for 108 yards, his first career 100-yard performance.

  • Sophomore Cyrus Coen recorded his third interception of the season and of his career.

  • Sophomore Marcus Mason scored his first touchdown of the season. It was his first career touchdown catch and second touchdown.

  • Sophomore Kristoff Williams caught his third touchdown pass of the season and fifth of his career, while his classmate, Bobby Ratliff, recorded a career-high 128 receiving yards. The pair's performance drew praise from Leach.

    "Both did a tremendous job," he said. "Both have really stepped up and played well."

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