PULLMAN – Tough questions at Washington State on a Saturday night. For instance:
Did the Cougars swoon that badly in the second half to divert criticism from the all-gray uniforms that won the day in an online vote of fans? Or did the gray-out somehow overwhelm the offensive plotting and performance, too?
If nothing else, walking out of Martin Stadium on the heels of a 44-14 homecoming evisceration at the hands of seventh-ranked Stanford made certain that Wazzu’s on-field laundry reflected the mood.
It’s not clear when college football decided that a spread in Vogue is as desirable as one on the sports page, but we know this much: Everyone else has throwback jerseys, Oregon has throw-up jerseys and the Cougars now have throw-away jerseys.
This isn’t a lone opinion. A teenager suggested WSU’s threads “look like concrete.” A Twitter blast offered up the term “Bondo chic,” which should ring true with the body shop set.
Just wondering: if Notre Dame had worn all gray in 1924, how would Grantland Rice have made out the Four Horsemen against the October sky?
But see? It works. Already we’ve detoured conversation away from the post-intermission malaise during which the Cardinal reaffirmed their big-boy worthiness and the Cougars demonstrated that, as far as they’ve come from the nadir of 2008-09, there is still so very, very far to go.
“You’ve just got to grind through those situations when adversity comes at you,” said receiver Isiah Barton. “You have to keep fighting and grinding and I think we pretty much did that the first half.
“The second half, it got out of hand. They kept putting points up and I guess we just thought the game was over.”
Stanford doesn’t just hit you in the mouth, it does a pretty good Edward Scissorhands with the scalpel, too. But it’s not much of an endorsement that the Cougar offense waited until the final four minutes to betray a pulse with everyone’s favorite proxy, Marshall Lobbestael, at the controls.
Oh, and on that topic: coach Paul Wulff, who went with Jeff Tuel – cleared to play on Wednesday – as the starter, did absolutely the right thing.
Never mind that the willing Lobbestael would have been a wince-worthy target for Stanford’s relentless pressure and blitzes, and that Tuel bought time as early as Wazzu’s second snap. The starter before he suffered a broken left clavicle six weeks ago, Tuel needed to be the guy again as soon as possible.
“We knew there were going to be some issues,” Wulff admitted. “The last time he saw live bullets was Idaho State. But the only way he’s going to grow is by playing. You have to play through it to get him back, and I’m confident he’ll respond.”
Issues there were. A rusty Tuel, said Wulff, missed some reads and protection calls, and his receivers apparently thought he was throwing plutonium. Presented with two precious momentum plays by the defense (Damante Horton’s pick of Heisman frontrunner Andrew Luck’s first pass) and special teams (Barton’s 50-yard return to open the second half), the Cougars wasted them, along with enough other solid play by the defense to keep the home team within 10-7 at halftime and get Stanford coach David Shaw a little riled.
“I wasn’t concerned – I was mad,” Shaw said. “I said if we come back and play our style of football then we will win by three touchdowns.”
He shorted his team, but then the Cardinal got some help.
The Cougars were lacking adjustments, precision, rhythm and staying power. Wulff rightfully credited some of that to the visitors, but there was a telling series after they went up 24-7 when the Cougs looked decidedly short on want-to.
Part of a program’s growth is developing a major-league mentality. These Cougars do not yet have it.
“Maybe we didn’t come out with as much intensity as in the first half, or something happened,” said safety Deone Bucannon. “I’m not sure. That’s no excuse. We should come out strong all throughout the game.”
Surely it didn’t help that Luck decided to be Luck again, or that the Cardinal has taken Big Receiver Chic to extremes with its marvelous trio of tight ends. But it also underscores how much the Cougars need Tuel to be Tuel again.
“You’re used to putting points on the board,” said defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi, “and it seemed that the defense was out there a lot. (The offense) had a lot of three-and-outs and we had to stop them, and that’s one of the best offenses in the country.
“Our offense, I feel, they provide that spark, those long touchdowns – and we didn’t have that. You felt it throughout the game.”
A gray day, all the way around.