John Blanchette: Cougs at competitive disadvantage again
STILLWATER, Okla. – Is it already time to reconsider the “Maybe it won’t be as bad as we think” season of Washington State football?
Hey, it’s always good to be reminded that even hedged expectations can go unfulfilled.
But in college football, it’s just not so good to be reminded before Labor Day.
Now, if you think it’s too early to give up on the notion of competitive Cougars football in 2010, you’re certainly entitled to that delusion, er, decision. Might even be the mentally healthy thing to do, if you were brave enough to commit to some seats and Saturdays on behalf of the cause.
And, of course, the Cougars themselves haven’t surrendered.
“We’re not going to stop and give up,” said defensive tackle Brandon Rankin, “just because we lost one game.”
OK, but he wasn’t around for the 22 that piled up over the previous two seasons.
And other than the usual handful of look-at-that plays and the bare hints of brilliance from the odd freshman like receiver Marquess Wilson, there was virtually nothing to distinguish Saturday’s 65-17 drubbing by Oklahoma State – that’s unranked, picked-for-fifth-in-the-Big-12- South Oklahoma State – from those calamities and humiliations.
It will get better, is what everyone keeps being told by Cougars coach Paul Wulff, his lieutenants, soldiers and everyone inside the program with a stake in success.
But it just doesn’t. Pretty soon, the question that needs to be answered is “When?”
Part beatdown and part meltdown – a beltdown? – this pratfall was exactly what Wulff and the Cougars could not abide on this day, even in a hostile joint in true football country, against a program that has been to four straight bowl games and with a sugar daddy who is beyond Big Money and even Huge Money but into Obscene Money.
Yeah, yeah. The Cowboys have T. Boone Pickens. The Cougs can’t afford T-bone fixin’s.
It was amusing to hear Pickens hold court in the press box before the game, claiming “I’m not an owner” (he laid a cool $165 million on athletic director Mike Holder and coach Mike Gundy for the football program a few years ago) and telling everyone how tight it is at his shop, BP Capital (“If Gundy thinks he’s got it tough, he ought to try my business”).
He also said, “I told Holder and Gundy five years ago that I wanted to be competitive. Now I’m tired of being competitive.”
Don’t think he isn’t being heard. Gundy went out in the offseason and got one of those hotshot coordinators, Dana Holgersen, to inject some octane into the offense. And though there’s a brand new quarterback – Brandon Weeden was a mere 22 of 30 Saturday and yet was a complete afterthought as Kendall Hunter ran wild for 257 yards behind a completely rebuilt line – Pickens figures eight wins would be about right, even if he’s not thrilled about it.
Meanwhile, at WSU, no matter how many pronouncements are made about how much better the players are that Wulff is bringing in – and it’s undeniably true – there isn’t so much expectation as dread.
With good reason. Against the Cowboys, WSU fumbled on its first play – it was 7-0 with the game 30 seconds old – and then built on it: They didn’t shake blocks, didn’t tackle, dropped interceptions and passes, misfired and got burned. Some brief hope – pulling to within a TD in the second quarter – was snuffed by 34 straight OSU points. Wulff hasn’t been happy to lose before – though at times he seemed to be – but this was the first time frustration seemed to bubble over.
“We’ve got to have success,” he said. “We’ve got to have games where we come in and compete with somebody, and we’ve got to start winning some games.
“We’re going to be a good football team, but we came out here and didn’t respond and play well. We’ve got to find ways to respond and not allow those letdowns and disbelief happen to us in the middle of a game.”
And though they preach to each other about trust and belief, quarterback Jeff Tuel isn’t convinced the message is getting through.
“Obviously, we were the underdogs,” he said, “but some guys weren’t expecting us to be in that game in the second quarter. We’re down a touchdown and some guys are thinking, ‘Holy crap, we’re in this game’ – and that’s too late. Our eyes were wide open and we just lost it.”
The youth of the Cougars – 24 of the 60 participants Saturday were in their first game – will be mentioned often, yet even so Wulff insisted, “I don’t think that score is any indication of what we’re capable of doing.”
Then it’s time the Cougars do what they’re capable of doing, if only for one Saturday. Might be nice for their constituents to grow tired of being competitive, for a change.