Amid controversy Cougs lose 7th consecutive game
After a brutal week for the Washington State Cougars, embroiled in war of words and accusations with departed star wide receiver Marquess Wilson, there was still a game to play against the No. 18 UCLA Bruins on a frigid Saturday night.
Marquess Wilson’s Agenda
Just hours before the nationally televised game, however, Wilson released a statement to the media saying farewell to Cougar Nation and not-so-literally spit in the coaches’ faces on his way out the door to who-knows-where.
Wilson accused Leach and his staff of “verbal, emotional and physical abuse,” creating a media firestorm much hotter than the sub-freezing temperatures of the Palouse.
But before answering to the — for now — baseless claims by their former disgruntled receiver, the Cougars took on the Bruins and came out playing well before an injury sidelined starting quarterback Jeff Tuel. At the time, it looked serious, but as the second quarter rolled around, it became the least of their concerns.
Behind a pitiful performance from their special teams the Cougars had four of their first five kicks blocked — two field goals. What resulted was a 30-point drubbing during the second quarter thanks to a starting field position at the Cougars’ 46-yard line for the Bruins.
At halftime, the Bruins led 37-7 and it looked as though the Cougars had all but packed up for the offseason.
With Tuel sidelined, Connor Halliday came on in relief and played fantastic, completing 26-of-43 passes for 330 yards and a career high five touchdowns. The redshirt sophomore led a spirited offense down the field for four second half touchdowns, eventually cutting the lead to just eight points with 1:30 left in the game.
In addition to Halliday’s only interception of the game deep in Bruins territory, the Cougars’ committed many mistakes on the night en route to a 44-36 defeat at the hands of Jim Mora’s Bruins.
A Leach-esque comeback attempt was all for naught as the Cougars (2-8, 0-7 Pac-12) dropped their seventh consecutive game and remained winless in conference play.
Special Teams’ Blunders
When you look at the box score, you could say that the Cougars completely dominated this game and, for the most part, you’d be correct. However, there’s always two sides to a story and the box score only tells one side of it.
The Cougars had four kicks blocked in the first half, one that resulted in a touchdown on an Andrew Furney blocked field goal.
Another field goal and two punts negated what could have been six points, taken six points off the board for the Bruins, and changed the field position in dramatic ways.
But, the offensive line woes continued and the Cougars were brutally manhandled in the trenches every time they snapped the ball on special teams — essentially the difference in the game.
There was no frozen precipitation in the air on Saturday night, but you wouldn’t be ridiculed if you mistook the alarming amount of yellow flags thrown for pissed-on snowfall.
The Cougars were penalized nine times for 103 yards behind a rash of personal fouls — most likely frustration fouls for their terrible first half performance.
It’s been a theme for this Washington State football team to ruin positives with boneheaded mistakes and, on Saturday night, those mistakes amounted to a football fields worth of yards and negated several scoring opportunities.
They Fought Back
Enough with the negatives. I’m so tired of continually writing about how bad this team has played, how poorly they’ve been coached and the win-loss column.
This is supposed to be a ‘What Went Wrong’ column, but there were so many more ‘What Went Right’ moments during the course of this game that it would be a shame not to highlight.
When you’re 2-7 and you enter the locker room down 30 points at halftime, it would have been so easy for this team to crawl into a hole and hibernate for the rest of the game.
But they didn’t.
What they did do, however, was come back with a vengeance — a sense of pride and will to fight for a coaching staff that is being labeled as a “dumpster fire,” amid the turmoil that has unfolded over the course of the week.
They clawed back into that game behind a solid defensive performance — Hey! Look what happens when you aren’t backed up on your own endzone to start every drive! — and showed that the Air Raid is something that is still a thing, apparently.
The offense was firing, the defense was getting off the field and I’ll be damned if coach Mora wasn’t pissing his pants a little bit as the Cougars outscored the Bruins 29-7 in the second half.
To say this team is a locker room divided was a pretty easy thing to say coming into this game. Rightfully so, they looked like they were on the brink of disaster heading into the contest, but they showed that they’re a true team willing to fight for one another and this coaching staff, as well.
I’m over the moral victories and the slight improvements. I don’t condone losing, I don’t embrace it, and I’m tired of constantly witnessing it. But, what was fun was watching a team play their asses off for 60 minutes.
They aren’t the most talented team in the conference by a long shot, but they have proven that they can play with the best of them, and for those 60 minutes — well mostly the final 30 minutes — I was proud to be a Washington State Cougar despite the loss.
I think Saturday shows a lot about the events of this week and how getting rid of the rotten apples, no matter whom they shall be, is essential towards turning this program around.
It’s been a long year, but the effort that this team showed on Saturday night makes me rest a little better at night knowing that this staff still has the team’s respect and is capable of getting them ready to perform after all they’ve been through.
So that’s ‘What Went Wrong,’ but really, there was more that went right when you look at it deeply.