SEATTLE – Since they let the fans pick the uniforms online last week, maybe the next step for the Washington State Cougars is to let them call the plays from the stands.
On the next-to-last snap before halftime here Saturday night, quarterback Jeff Tuel ducked and wiggled and shuffled to buy himself more time for a pass downfield, and what he bought himself was a long incompletion and a vicious lick from Oregon State linebacker Tony Wilson.
One second remained and WSU coach Paul Wulff, even with a timeout in his pocket, either out of compassion or common sense ordered Tuel to take a knee on the final play rather than wager on a miracle from midfield.
And thousands among the 49,219 gathered – egads, they drew more here for Grambling – for the misbegotten idea of the Cougs ceding a Pacific-12 Conference home game off campus booed.
Because, of course, it would be preferable to have your shaken quarterback turned into road kill on a million-to-one shot rather than regroup to fight another half.
Now, in fairness to the savvy patrons at the Clink, perhaps they knew that the Cougs simply didn’t have enough fight in them this night.
And that definitely was worth a boo or two.
“I don’t think our kids played bad,” Wulff insisted. “I thought Oregon State played a hell of a game.”
OK. But isn’t it time for the Cougars to play a hell of a game? A full game? Sometime?
Wulff’s painstaking Project Coug has made some obvious progress in both personnel and siccum over the unwatchable slog of 2008 and 2009. But the effort and outcome of more evenings like the 44-21 clubbing Wazzu absorbed from the Beavers is going to put the weight on athletic director Bill Moos to do something he probably doesn’t want to do.
Remember, it doesn’t have to be about record, but about competitive.
And this wasn’t competitive – not nearly as competitive as a game against an equal in the Pac-12 North standings needed to be.
Did we say equal? The Beavers were 1-5, and they boat-raced the, uh, home team.
Was it Stoopsian bad, as in the 10th straight loss to an FBS opponent – OSU – that cost the Arizona coach his job two weeks ago? Well, no.
Was it Neuheiselean bad, as in UCLA’s ESPN fiasco Thursday night against those same Wildcats that doubled his critics overnight and had them bellowing for change? Well, close.
Similar change-now venting has been under way in these parts regarding Wulff – all misplaced, all pointless. There will be no midseason shuffle. It simply isn’t Wazzu’s style and is unlikely to produce even the jump-start that Arizona got out of such a move.
Because these Cougars simply aren’t ready to win. Under anyone. Yet.
Wulff perhaps fooled himself into thinking that was not the case before the season, or perhaps he simply felt the pressure from above and beyond the program to suggest this was a bowl-contending team. He has now been presented with evidence otherwise in three consecutive losses, this time by a sadly passive defense that got worked on the run, generated no penetration and made an OK young quarterback almost Luck-esque.
“Didn’t play very well,” defensive coordinator Chris Ball said. “Didn’t show up. No excuses. That’s my responsibility.”
And if you believe linebacker Sekope Kaufusi, this game was lost days ago.
“This really hits home to us and opens our eyes,” he said. “It starts in practice. We just didn’t get it going early in the week. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday we have to come prepared. You have to make plays in practice to make plays in games.
“They had more of a chip on their shoulder. They wanted revenge from last year, I feel like.”
Given the record of the previous three years, should there be a team with a bigger chip on their shoulders than the Cougs?
Be it emotionally or schematically, Wazzu appeared ill-prepared. Upon such shortcomings will critical judgments be made.
The bowl-or-bust-Wulff faction will not only hang its argument on the woefulness of previous seasons, but only the eyeball evidence that the Pac-12 – coachly pronouncements notwithstanding – could hardly be more mediocre this season.
And what the Cougars are demonstrating is that they are not yet a middling team.
“We’ve got to get out of the funk,” Ball said. “We lost games to UCLA and Stanford and got in a funk, a midseason funk, and we have to get out of it. It’s too tough of a league. I think we’ve dwelled on it a little bit and we have to flush it and move on.”
Except the flush-it weeks are piling up. Too many and they add up to a season.
And then something else gets flushed.