Cougs have witnessed drastic fall from prominence
The Washington State Cougars thrived in the late-90s and early 2000s but those promising teams have been shoved aside due to a decade of inferiority that has left fans yearning for positive results.
After two Rose Bowl appearances and three consecutive 10-win seasons there has been little to be optimistic about in regards to Cougar football.
Mike Leach and company have brought new life to the Palouse – a sense of excitement that has been absent for years – but the recent struggles are hard to forget.
5) December, 2002 – Mike Price leaves for Alabama
Mike Price, the man who orchestrated the most prolific period in Washington State football history, left Cougar fans scrambling for answers when the former National Coach of the Year bolted for Tuscaloosa. In 14 seasons as head coach, Price compiled an 83-78 record and reached five bowl games (three wins) including two Rose Bowl appearances in 1998 and 2002.
After the 1998 Rose Bowl loss to Michigan, Price signed an eight-year contract that ran through the 2005 season. But, the Crimson Tide lured WSU’s head man to the greener pastures of the SEC prior to the Cougar’s looming Rose Bowl appearance against Oklahoma.
To rub salt in the wound, Price would never coach a game for Alabama and the most celebrated run in Washington State football history was effectively over.
4) November 19th, 2011 – Utah spoils late season bowl bid
On a snowy evening in an empty Martin Stadium the Cougars knew they needed to win in order to put themselves in position to reach their first bowl game since the 2003 Holiday Bowl.
After handling Arizona State the week before, the Cougars needed a win against Utah to set up a win-or-go-home Apple Cup scenario and avoid missing a bowl game for the eighth consecutive year.
Utah led 20-10 with just over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter until a wide receiver pass from Kristoff Williams to Bobby Ratliff shrunk the lead to just three.
On the ensuing Utes drive, running back John White IV took the first play from scrimmage 57 yards for a touchdown to put Utah on top, 27-17.
Washington State freshman quarterback Connor Halliday cut the lead to just three when he connected with Jared Karstetter on a nine-yard touchdown pass with 3:14 remaining in the contest.
Trailing 27-24, the Cougars halted the Utes’ next drive and retained possession in their own territory with just under a minute to play. Halliday and Karstetter would connect on passes of 22-yards and 44-yards to put the Cougars in position to win the game.
With just six seconds remaining, the Halliday fired a bullet to Marquess Wilson at the one yard line for a touchdown, but after further review, the ball failed cross the goal line and the Cougars settled for a 17-yard field goal to push the game into overtime. The controversial call essentially ended the Cougars’ bowl hopes as Utah kicked a game winning 38-yard field goal in the overtime period.
The loss cemented the eight consecutive season that Washington State failed to reach a bowl game and was most likely the loss that sealed Paul Wulff’s fate as head coach.
3) The entire 2009 season
Washington State fielded arguably one of the worst teams in college football history in 2009. In the second year of the Paul Wulff experiment the expectation was improvement and, following a 2-11 campaign in 2008, that expectation was far from unreasonable.
Simply put, there was no improvement. Due to mounting injuries, the Cougars were forced to burn the redshirt of promising freshman quarterback Jeff Tuel and what ensued was blowout losses, one after another.
After losses to Stanford and Hawaii the Cougars found themselves sitting 0-2 with Southern Methodist coming to town. SMU, who actually reached a bowl game that season, dominated the Cougars the majority of the game but a miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter gave the Cougars their first win on the season in an overtime thriller.
Following the win against SMU, the Cougars dropped their final nine games by scores that are hard to fathom. In six of their eleven losses on the season, Washington State gave up at least 40 points, including a 52-6 drubbing at the hands of the Oregon Ducks.
To make matters worse, WSU failed to reach Husky territory in a miserable 30-0 loss in the Apple Cup.
Washington State finished the year 119th out of 120 teams in total offense, 118th in total defense, and gave up a mind-blowing 38.5 points per game on the season.
The SMU game aside, the Cougars failed to score more than 20 points in any of their twelve contests en route to a 1-11 season.
Needless to say, the 2009 Washington State football season is one for the record books but more importantly, one to forget.
2) January 1, 2003 – Sooners dismantle Cougars in Pasadena
#7 Washington State and #8 Oklahoma met in the 2003 Rose Bowl – the first Rose Bowl since 1946 that didn’t feature representatives from the Pac-10 and the Big-10 and the Sooners made the best of their first appearance.
Mike Price, just two weeks after accepting the head coaching job at Alabama, chose to coach the Cougars one last time and was sent off in rude fashion as the Sooners routed the Cougars 34-14.
The game was supposed to be some sort of going away party for Price and the Cougars, but faced up against the formidable Big-12 champions, Jason Gesser and the Cougars were no match.
The game was never close. Oklahoma led 17-0 at halftime and commanded a 27-0 lead until the Cougars scored a touchdown with just six minutes left in the game.
The Cougars were crippled by three turnovers and never found any rhythm on offense.
WSU failed to capitalize on another astounding 10-win season and were left without a coach and a Rose Bowl victory, once again.
1) January 1, 1998 – The Ryan Leaf spike vs. Michigan in the Rose Bowl
In their first Rose Bowl appearance in 67 years, Ryan Leaf and the Cougars faced the undefeated Michigan Wolverines for a chance at a national championship. Washington State’s magical run marked their first 10-win season under Mike Price and resulted in a Pac-10 championship but the Wolverines would prove to be their toughest test yet.
The Cougars found the endzone first on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Leaf to Kevin Mckenzie to take an early 7-0 lead. Leaf came close to extending the lead to 14-0 in the second quarter but Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson intercepted a would-be touchdown to halt the promising drive.
Michigan’s Brian Griese would answer with a 58-yard touchdown pass just before half to send the two teams into the break knotted up at 7-7.
Early in the third quarter, Washington State took over on their own one yard line after a Michigan fumble. Leaf led the Cougars down the field and capped off a 99-yard drive on a 14-yard reverse handoff to Shawn Tims.
The ensuring extra point was blocked but the Cougars took the lead 13-6.
One More Shot
Greise answered with touchdown passes on their next two possessions to take their first lead of the game at 21-13. WSU kicker Rian Lindell tacked on a 48-yard field goal to shrink the lead to 21-16 but hope was fading fast.
The Cougar defense was exhausted which resulted in a seven minute drive in the fourth quarter that took all but 29 seconds off the clock.
Backed up on their own seven-yard line, the Cougars hopes of raising the Rose Bowl trophy lied 93 yards away with just 29 seconds to play. Facing a third-and-10 with just 16 seconds remaining, Leaf pulled a rabbit out of the hat and hit Nian Taylor on a hail mary-esque pass for 46-yards down to the Michigan 47-yard line.
After a delay of game backed the Cougars up five yards, Price drew up a hook-and-ladder from Leaf to Love Jeffereson who pitched the ball to tight end Jason Clayton that gained nine more yards to the Michigan 26 with just three seconds to play.
After Clayton was ruled down the clock stopped but then started again and took one more second off the clock which the officials failed to witness. With no timeouts remaining, Leaf was forced to hustle the team to the line and attempt to spike the ball to stop the clock with two seconds left.
As the clock was wound, Leaf spiked the ball with one second remaining but the official waved the game off and the clock struck zeroes.
The Cougars were 26-yards away from possibly pulling off the most dramatic comeback in Rose Bowl history yet the controversial ruling was the final nail in the Cougars’ Rose Bowl coffin.
Washington State faithful will forever wonder what could have been if Leaf had just one more shot.