Cougars crumble in fourth again

Washington State had the lead over Rutgers and a key fourth-quarter defensive stop. All it needed to do was to close the deal with poise. It didn't.

With an ending that surely had more than a few Cougars fans recalling the fourth-quarter collapse in the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State, Washington State dropped a 41-38 decision to Rutgers, an eight-point underdog, because it couldn't hold a fourth-quarter lead. Again.

And it couldn't hold that lead because of a critical turnover -- again -- this time a fumbled punt return from typically sure-handed receiver River Cracraft.

Instead of taking over at midfield with a four-point lead, the Cougars handed the ball back to Rutgers, which drove for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

Even with that, WSU had plenty of time -- 3:18 left on the clock -- to drive for the winning points. QB Connor Halliday and the passing offense had been outstanding most of the night.

But a sack put the Cougars in a hole, Cracraft couldn't haul in a pass on fourth-and-13, and the Scarlet Knights celebrated on Seattle's CenturyLink Field.

The loss was a hit for the Pac-12 on the opening weekend, while Rutgers immediately pleased its new Big Ten brothers. For the Cougs, it probably lowered preseason expectations that they might take another step forward in the North Division. It would be fair to call a Friday visit to Nevada on Sept. 5 a must-win for bowl hopes.

As for the good, Halliday completed 40 of 56 passes for 532 yards with five touchdowns, shaking off a bad early interception. The bad? Other than fumbling away a chance for an opening victory, the Cougs couldn't run the ball -- they had just six yards rushing -- nor could they stop the run. The Scarlet Knights rushed for 215 yards. Those are not unfamiliar problems.

As fumbling away a lead in the fourth quarter isn't.