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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Season recap: Washington State

By Kevin Gemmell

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

Record: 4-8, 2-7 Pac-12

After winning three of their first four to start the season, there was cautious optimism that Paul Wulff might have actually turned things around in Pullman. Then came the UCLA debacle -- coughing up an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. That opened up the flood gates, and the Cougars went on to lose six of their final seven and eventually Wulff, who was fired after a 38-21 loss to Washington in the season finale.

It wasn't all doom and gloom. Back-up-turned-starter-turned-backup-turned-starter Marshall Lobbestael looked pretty good at times, throwing five touchdowns in Week 2 against UNLV and 15 touchdowns in his first five games. Sophomore Marquess Wilson and senior Jared Karstetter teamed up for 142 catches, 18 receiving touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards while the Cougars as a whole finished with the country's ninth-best passing offense, averaging 322.3 yards per game.

There was also a gutty, four-touchdown passing performance by freshman Connor Halliday in a shocking 37-27 win over Arizona State -- which ultimately cost the Sun Devils the Pac-12 South and a spot in the conference title game.

Offensive MVP: A top-10 receiver nationally, it didn't matter who was under center for Washington State, Marquess Wilson caught what was thrown his way. With 82 grabs on the year, 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns, the sophomore averaged 115.7 yards per game. He came up huge in the victory over Arizona State with three touchdowns and 223 receiving yards. He found the end zone in eight of 12 games.

Defensive MVP: Tough call between linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis and sophomore defensive back Deone Bucannon, who both stood out. But Hoffman-Ellis lead the team with 88 total stops -- 64 of them unassisted -- and had 11 tackles for a loss, two sacks and an interception.

Turning point: Has to be the UCLA game. Bowl eligibility would have seemed a lot more likely with four wins going into a stretch that had Stanford and Oregon in two of three weeks. And even though UCLA was down this year, it still would have been a victory over a brand-name conference opponent. Who knows what could have happened if the Cougars had held that lead in the fourth quarter.

Up next: Let the Mike Leach era begin. We know he has quarterbacks and receivers to work with. He'll excite the fan base and his offensive scheme could turn the program around in a hurry.