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The win over ASU, morning-after edition

COUGARS

Got a solid, three-and-a-half hours of sleep before waking with a start. Looked outside and, though it was dark, it was still possible to see the snow was gone. Had Saturday, from the calming ride down the back way from Spokane, as we call it, to the snow, to talking with Steve Gleason, to a Washington State football victory built on the not-so-wide shoulders of a redshirt freshman quarterback, to the incessant sound of my computer's keyboard until after midnight, had it all been a dream? Sadly, no. I still had to get out of bed and pound out a morning post. Better put on the coffee. Read on.

••••••••••

• Washington State: As we said early this morning – check the time on the post-game post – the story lines from the 37-27 victory over the Sun Devils are seemingly infinite. But other than the universe, I can't think of anything that isn't finite, including my fingers' lifespan. So let's touch on the biggest ones. ... Steve Gleason traveled from New Orleans to the Palouse to watch his beloved Cougars – of all the things he talked about in his 20 minutes or so with four of us writers, that was the most obvious, how much love he holds for WSU and we have a quote below that illustrates that – and share his message about living life to the fullest and exploring everything it has to offer. That they were able to win the game he watched, after he had talked with them before their pregame preparations, has to be one of the feel-good stories of Washington State's history. Though, as Gleason's battle with ALS illustrates more than anything anyone could say or write, it's just a game. It pales in comparison to our ongoing journey in life. ... I have to share this from Gleason. He was asked what it means to him to call himself a Coug. "At its essence," he said, "Cougs are kind of castaways, misfits and overachievers. I think other words that come to mind are hospitable, just the Coug community, it's very obvious they are very hospitable. Proud. I think that's what it means to be a Coug." As I sat there and listened to his answer, I thought Steve Gleason may have been describing himself in a lot of ways. ... Let's end the Gleason part of this on an up note, because that seems to be the way he wants it. If you remember, Gleason was not only a linebacker on the WSU football team – and at Gonzaga Prep before that – he was also a Cougar baseball player. Which explains his answer to the first question, which was about Saturday's weather. "It's perfect," he said. "We've been here now for 36 hours or so and just had a very warm welcome from friends, family, the university, obviously, the team, the athletic department. I'm excited. When that snow started to come down, I got real excited." Asked if snow games bring back some memories, he answered, "I was actually joking, I think I played more baseball games in the snow." As a parent of two Spokane-area high school baseball players, I totally understood that remark. Gleason actually never played in a snowy football game at WSU. "When I was watching Cougar football, '92 and '94, those were big games in the snow," he said. John Blanchette's column covered the Gleason experience. ... Back to the game's story lines. ... I don't think I have ever seen a freshman, even a redshirt freshman, have a game at quarterback the equal of Connor Halliday's. I spent Friday morning having coffee with some Spokane friends, including Halliday's high school coach, Jim Sharkey, and we talked quite a bit about Halliday's potential and what he might do when given his shot Saturday. Sharkey told one story about a throw Halliday made in a playoff game, I believe, gunning the ball down the field from one hash to the opposite numbers, saying it was that throw – coming on a misread, actually, but still being completed – that cemented his opinion that Halliday was something special. We covered much of the Halliday story line in our game story. ... There was the weather, with snow before the game and snow and rain showers during it. If you sat out that mess, my wool cap is off to you. ... There was the play of Marquess Wilson who had 223 receiving yards, setting a WSU single-season record of 1,197 in the process, going past Brandon Gibson's 1,180 in 2007 on his last catch. We covered those last two story lines in our notebook. ... There is the sudden collapse of Arizona State, and the angst it engenders in the desert. That's covered in our links below. ... And there are other items covered in our four keys, which we can't find on-line, so we have at the bottom of the WSU section. Before we go there, though, here are the statistics and the scoring. If you want quotes, click this link and you'll get a .pdf from WSU's athletic department. ... By the way, our copy desk did an incredible job last night getting all this crud in the newspaper, a job I don't think many people understand or appreciate. I do both. ... The final story line is  the ongoing saga of Paul Wulff's job status, a subject that has initiated great debate here, on CougCenter, on Cougfan, heck, in bars and living rooms where Cougs gather (and one we've reported on often). It took another turn with the win Saturday night. Whether or not Wulff will finish out his five-year contract next season sits in the hands of one guy, athletic director Bill Moos. Don't let anyone tell you school president Elson Floyd will make the decision. Floyd has entrusted Moos with this. If, in the last three weeks, Moos was looking for something to excite the fan base, Saturday night's victory over an Arizona State team had to fill the bill, at least in part. Not as much as a bowl game, of course, and not as much as an Apple Cup victory would, of course. Those things – one still with a low probability, the other, heck, the other the Apple Cup, in which anything can happen – are for down the road, as is Moos' decision. For those of you that think it would be best for Wulff to go and those who think the wise choice is for him to return, you're going to have to wait. Moos has always been adamant the decision would come at the end of the season. I wish the decision, no matter which way it is going to go, would come sooner so all the speculation could stop and I wouldn't have to waste pixels – there's only a finite number you know – writing about it. ... Elsewhere, we can pass along Bud Withers' column on the game in the Times and his story on Gleason's appearance. ... From the News Tribune, freelancer Howie Stalwick has this piece on the game. ... More on Gleason, whose game ball Paul Wulff brought into the postgame interview room, from CougCenter's Brian Floyd. ... And that's it from this precinct. If you read every link, I think every story line on the game is covered, despite the nearly 11 p.m. finish. ... Here are the four things, as I promised. ...

• What went right

The play of Connor Halliday. Coming in, as planned, on the third possession, the redshirt freshman from Spokane gave the Cougars the spark they needed to snap a five-game losing streak. In his first Pac-12 game ever, Halliday completed 27 of 36 passes for 494 yards – a WSU freshman record, supplanting Drew Bledsoe's 385 in 1990 – and tossed four touchdown passes.

• What went wrong

The opening kickoff. For the fourth time this season, Washington State gave up a long return for a touchdown. This one covered 95 yards and forced the Cougars to play catch up all night long. Plus, it scared them enough they decided to squib kick throughout the first half, handing ASU great starting field position.

• Turning point

The Sun Devils had a chance to clinch the game early in the fourth quarter, leading 27-23. They had marched down to the WSU 9 when they faced a fourth-and-1. Instead of kicking a field goal – ASU had its troubles last week at UCLA – coach Dennis Erickson went for it. Brandon Rankin rooted in, knocked Cameron Marshall down and WSU's hopes were still alive.

• Difference makers

There was Halliday and his 494 yards passing. There was Marquess Wilson and his 223 yards receiving. And there was safety Deone Bucannon, who was all over the field, making a season-high 13 tackles. Add it up and WSU still has a chance to go to a bowl, though the Cougars, with four wins, will have to win out.

•••

• Around the Pac-12: ESPN.com's Ted Miller fulfills his usual early Sunday-morning assignments, including his helmet stickers and telling us what we learned. He also weighs in on Wulff's status. ... Washington: Have the Huskies' regressed? That was a theme following their 40-17 loss at USC. Two things. The Trojans are good and special teams don't seem to be a strength right now in this state. ... Oregon State: The Beavers, much to my chargrin – they were my upset pick this week – couldn't get it done in San Francisco, losing at Cal, 23-6. The game may have hinged on one call. ... Oregon: OK, so the formula is clear. The only way you can defeat the Ducks under Chip Kelly is have more than one week to prepare. Stanford didn't and Oregon rolled 53-30, injecting itself back into the BCS picture. Though I'm pretty sure the powers that be in college football, most of whom live south of the Mason-Dixon Line, will allow the Ducks into that game over Alabama. Just my thought. ... California: The Bears are one of two Pac-12 teams to become bowl eligible Saturday and, with seven spots, pretty much everyone who qualifies will be going. ... Stanford: The Oregon speed seems to have been the difference, though those of us who live in Pullman were unable to get this game. I have to amend that. It wasn't on the TVs at WSU or at my apartment. No feed. ... There is a lot of postgame analysis and angst from the Bay Area. ... Colorado: The Buffs outplayed Arizona, winning 48-29 and proving once again, duh, that emotion plays a big part in college football. ... Utah: The Utes had little trouble with UCLA at home, dominating up front and winning 31-6. They were the second team to become bowl eligible yesterday and are playing as well as any team in the conference. ... USC: The Trojans roll, though the big play was made by their punter. ... UCLA: This loss everyone could see coming, but it still evokes more Rick Neuheisel criticism. ... Arizona State: The Sun Devils were riding high a couple weeks ago. Now Dennis Erickson is feeling some desert heat. ... Jamal Miles was a playmaker - for both teams. ... Arizona: The worst team in the Pac-12? That would be the Arizona Wildcats.

•••

• That's what we have for this morning. Wulff will hold his usual Sunday press conference this evening and we'll post afterward. My guess is Halliday will start Saturday against Utah, but in this wacky season, who knows? Until then ...




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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