PULLMAN – In sports, the term upset refers to an unexpected result. In real life, it can refer to a distressed stomach.
Six of one, half-a-dozen of another.
When the Washington State Cougars take the Martin Stadium turf Saturday afternoon for their homecoming matchup with seventh-ranked Stanford, they will be aware they are a three-touchdown underdog.
“It would be awesome to come back here after not playing at home for a month, against a top-10 team, on homecoming, with a packed stadium, to get the ‘W,’” said junior defensive end Travis Long.
But what they may not know is it’s been five years since a Cougar football team has upset a ranked team.
Five years with numerous chances but no success.
“Winning a game like that builds great memories,” said coach Paul Wulff this week, who, as a player in 1988, returned from an appendicitis operation in time to help the Cougars upset top-ranked UCLA, 34-30, in the Rose Bowl. “You remember moments during the game, flashes, things that stick with you the rest of your life.
“That’s why when you get into these situations, it’s a great opportunity – a challenge, obviously, for our football team – to build some great memories.”
So how does quarterback Jeff Tuel or Marshall Lobbestael, whoever Wulff chooses to play today, lift the Cougars past a Stanford team that has won 13 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation?
The most recent Cougar quarterback to lead WSU to an upset of a ranked team, Alex Brink, has some ideas.
“Playing at home is a huge advantage, to start with,” said Brink, currently a backup with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League. “But a big piece is just having the confidence in yourself, to know you can compete with whatever group is opposite of you.
“Then it’s just a matter of going out and executing your game plan.”
WSU’s last upset of a ranked team came Oct. 21, 2006, a 34-23 home win over the Oregon Ducks in a game Brink believes shouldn’t have been that close.
But the seeds of the upset were sown earlier in the year, he said.
“At that time we only had three losses and they were all to top 10 teams,” Brink said. “We had handled our business in our other Pac-10 games that year, so we had some confidence built up.”
These Cougars may have developed some confidence at the end of last year’s 38-28 loss at Stanford, scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns to throw a scare into the Cardinal.
And they should have built more the first five games this year, winning two easily, rallying for another and being on the edge of victory in both defeats.
Whatever came before, an upset today would mean a lot, Brink said.
“It validates the growth as a team and a program,” he explained. “The next week we went down to UCLA and beat up the Bruins in the Rose Bowl. There was a ton of confidence their from having beat a ranked team.”
And the memories will stay with them forever.
“Coach has told the story of that (1988) UCLA game before, a lot,” said Long, a junior. “But ever since I’ve been here we haven’t had that big victory, where we’re upsetting someone. Might as well start now. Why not?”
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