Excuses Handy, but Gesser Makes None

Times Staff Writer

It was your ankle, one person after another offered.

Your coach leaving for Alabama, then sticking around for the Rose Bowl, someone said.

Maybe that cold you've been nursing, another suggested.

No, no, and no again, Jason Gesser said.

"We just killed ourselves the whole game."

The golden boy who has played through cracked and dislocated ribs and a severely sprained ankle during his Washington State career came up empty in the final -- and biggest -- game.

Gesser was sacked six times by a blitzing Oklahoma defense and had two passes intercepted. He finished with 17 completions in 34 attempts for 239 yards and two touchdowns.

But the tone was set by halftime, when he was three for 13 for 81 yards, and Washington State didn't score until there was only 6:08 left in Oklahoma's 34-14 victory.

"Maybe with three minutes left in the fourth quarter, I started thinking, 'Man, was that a nightmare or what?' " Gesser said.

"It's going to take a while to get over. It hit me hard in the locker room. Coach [Mike] Price stood and talked. I stood and talked.

"Guys were coming up, hugging me, saying, 'Thanks for everything.' I'm sitting there [ticked off] at myself because we didn't win.

"I didn't play the way I wanted to. Someday, hopefully I'll be able to sit back and be proud of what I accomplished. Right now it's real hard."

Gesser assessed his right ankle at 75% to 80%, but Oklahoma knew he lacked his usual mobility and came after him hard.

"We knew that we had to bring pressure," linebacker Teddy Lehman said. "If we did, it was a matter of covering well enough and we did that. ... They knew we were coming, so if we didn't cover well, they were going to get some passes. If we did, there was going to be a sack."

Time and again, that's what happened.

Gesser chose to focus on the offense's mistakes, and its share of the nine team penalties that kept thwarting drives.

But he conceded it was the speed of the Oklahoma defense and those dizzying blitzes.

"They came with a lot of different blitzes," Gesser said.

"Oklahoma has a great defense. Their front seven won the game. They had good penetration and were getting to me with some good hits.

"I'm about, like I said, 75%-80%. It's probably going to be 60%-65% after this game. I took a couple of shots and was getting hit left and right -- but I never tweaked my ankle."

Offensive lineman Derrick Roche had few answers.

"It was a total team offensive meltdown," he said.

It started with a team that seemed unsettled by the Rose Bowl scene.

"Coming out of the chute, our timing was a little off. It was a big game, emotional," Gesser said.

It's impossible to say Gesser's ankle wasn't something of a factor, even if he didn't want to say so. After all, this wasn't UCLA. This was Oklahoma, at one time considered the best defense in the nation.

"If I looked up and saw just one guy, usually I could take off and get 10 yards," Gesser admitted. "With the ankle, I've got to sit and wait and hope somebody gets open because I'm not fast enough. It played a factor, but it's no excuse."

Nor would he bite on the theory that Price's impending departure was a distraction.

"You can blame me or anybody, but not Coach Price," Gesser said. "If he wasn't here, that would be a distraction."

There are no more distractions now. No more urgent treatments on his ankle. No more Disney parks or late-night talk shows.

Just home to Pullman, Wash. -- which won't be the same without Price, headed for Alabama within days, or Gesser, who only wants to sleep.

"For about two days straight, probably. I'll tell you that much," he said.

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