Blanchette: Cougars get that no-win win out of the way
PULLMAN – So what do you think – a contract extension for the head coach?
(Fan base will detonate in 3 … 2 … 1 …)
Only kidding. Lighten up, everyone. Everyone. Fans, critics, players and, yes, coaches, too. Take a breath and enjoy whatever endorphins were manufactured and linger from Saturday’s great escape, even as the unrelenting grumps – and not without some justification – will paint it as Freedonia beating Sylvania in a Marx Brothers movie.
The wearing of hair shirts and the hurling of high, hard ones can resume soon enough this week in and around Washington State. For a few hours, at least, the mantra can be, “No matter the opponent…”
No? Can’t stop clenching for even a second?
OK. Perhaps you’d like to trade places this mornings with the folks in Minnesota, where the Gophers not only lost to a team from the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision but to neighboring South Dakota, no less. There is “Uff da” overload on both sides of the border. Or maybe you’d like to be waking up in Blacksburg, Va., where the 13th-ranked team in the country is now 0-2 after losing to James Madison, which is taking checks and balances to an extreme.
Surely Hokies coach Frank Beamer was burned in effigy Saturday night. What can be expected of a guy who was hired away from an FCS school like Murray State anyway, other than maybe 17 bowl games?
In just the past five years, the likes of Michigan, Stanford, Colorado, Virginia, Kansas and Mississippi State have been taken down by FCS upstarts. Go back to the creation of FCS/Division I-AA football in 1978 and 44 Goliaths from Bowl Championship Series leagues have been felled by five smooth stones of the little guys.
But not the Cougars. Not even these Cougars, though rock bottom was certainly grazed in their 23-22 victory over Montana State on Saturday.
“Doesn’t matter how or who,” said WSU safety Chima Nwachukwu. “I’ve seen a lot of other I-AA teams beat teams they ‘shouldn’t’ have beaten. Sure, we’re conscious of the fact that the teams ahead will be a lot better. That doesn’t mean we can’t take something from pulling this one out.”
In fact, the Cougars made a little history. They won a no-win game. Of course, if you have to lose 23 of 26 games to get to that point, that’s a pretty steep price.
Look, it wasn’t going to be enough for either the supporters or the snide even if Wazzu won by 40; any opponent from the Big Sky Conference is automatically dismissed as a cardboard cutout. Likewise, you could almost sense the Brickbat Bunch rooting for a loss – the better to organize a noose-knotting bee in the name of head coach Paul Wulff.
So if they couldn’t satisfy anyone, the Cougars could at least do something for themselves. And after twisting themselves into a 22-7 straitjacket, they stormed back in rather improbable fashion – with an opportunistic defense that a week ago was used as a footwipe by Oklahoma State. Three interceptions of MSU freshman Denarius McGhee – who had pretty well strafed the Cougs for three quarters – were the difference, all the balls either deflected or heavily pressured.
“It’s hard to get excited and get your team emotionally ready to win if you don’t have players to make those kinds of plays,” said Wulff. “Your momentum is never going to get to the level you want it to. It’s something we’ve struggled with the last two years. Now we have a few more guys to do that and we’re getting better. We’ve got to start making plays so the team can rally around that.”
But maybe they need to be turned loose, too.
It wasn’t until the second half that the Cougars finally turned up the heat on McGhee, whose elusiveness made that problematic.
“We had some blitzes in the game plan and looking back we should have come after him more in the first half,” admitted defensive coordinator Chris Ball. “At halftime we just kind of said, ‘Screw it – we have them in the game plan, let’s use them.’
“We have so many young guys in the secondary, you can get nervous about bringing pressure. But in the second half, we didn’t have much of a choice. We needed to make things happen.”
Maybe the Cougars should start the game with the same mindset. They were all too cognizant of the talk that this was the only game on their schedule that anyone out there had penciled – penciled – in as a win. They couldn’t have been any tighter had Wulff put their scholarships at stake.
Well, the no-win game is history, and they won. Now it’s time for a no-lose strategy.