PULLMAN – With four games left in the 2010 season, Washington State hit its low point, a 42-0 thrashing at Arizona State.
But the Cougars bounced back and played their best football of the season, with narrow losses to California and Washington sandwiched around a dominating 31-14 win at Oregon State.
Now there are four games left in the 2012 season.
And the 3-5 Cougars need to finish strong once again if they have any hope of reaching their preseason goal, winning at least six games and qualifying for a bowl game for the first time since 2003.
Washington State (1-4 in Pac-12 play) hopes it reached its nadir two games ago when fell 44-21 to Oregon State in Seattle. They followed up that effort with a 43-28 loss at sixth-ranked Oregon last Saturday.
“We’re going to take it up a notch,” said sophomore safety Deone Bucannon of the next four games. “Those last three games (last year), we played great games but we didn’t win (all of them). We’re definitely going into each of these games looking to play even better.”
Then Bucannon, who is second among WSU defenders with 48 tackles, catches himself a bit.
“We’re not looking at last year as much because last year, that’s last year,” he said. “This is this year. We have new people, new leaders, and we’re looking forward to these last four games.”
One of those new leaders is sophomore cornerback Damante Horton, who didn’t play down the stretch last season after suffering a knee injury with five games remaining. He leads the Cougars – and the Pac-12 – with four interceptions, all in the last four games.
“As the season’s been going on, we’ve been getting a lot better,” Horton said. “These last few games, I feel we’ll be at our best.”
For the defense, that hasn’t been the case recently. The group has given up 131 points in the past three games and has dropped more than 30 spots nationally, to 84th, in total defense.
And this week’s opponent, California (4-4, 1-4) is averaging more than 400 yards a game. It is also 3-1 at home, though this season’s home is AT&T Park in San Francisco as the Bears’ Memorial Stadium is rebuilt.
“We’ve got to get to get some turnovers,” said WSU coach Paul Wulff. “I really believe our defense has to create some. It’s been the most effective way to play Cal.”
The Bears had four turnovers last week in a loss to UCLA and five more in a recent defeat to USC.
Those miscues have put a strain on a defense that leads the conference in fewest passing yards allowed and is 33rd nationally in overall defense.
“They’ve got a hell of a defense,” Wulff said. “We’re going to have to be good. We’re going to have to execute.”
For the next four games at least.