PULLMAN – The state of Utah has not been kind to the Washington State football team this season.
Neither has the Cougars’ coach.
Beaten physically on the football field by the Utah Utes – and then verbally in an interview room by coach Mike Leach – the Cougars returned to Pullman searching for a way to find something to feel good about in the season’s final three games.
They’ll likely start by trying to forget Saturday’s 49-6 loss to the Utes, their second blowout defeat in the Salt Lake City area this season. On Aug. 30, Brigham Young whipped the Cougars 30-6 in Provo, meaning WSU bids adieu to the state of Utah having been outscored 79-12 by two teams with a combined record of 9-9.
“When we get off the plane, as coaches we’re going to meet and we’re going to discuss and adjust our approach and figure out what we’re going to do throughout the week,” Leach said Saturday after telling reporters that he expects “some individuals” will not be with the team next season.
There may be more embarrassment, though, in the way the Cougars were chastised after Saturday’s loss by Leach, who made headlines by parading his entire offensive and defensives lines before the media for questioning.
WSU players’ effort, pride and courage have all been challenged publicly by Leach this season. And with their seventh loss behind them and the dream of a bowl game gone, the Cougars’ main objective during these final three games will be proving to Leach – and everyone else – that they’re not what he said they were.
“We’re playing for pride now,” sophomore linebacker/rush end Logan Mayes said. “I know that’s a cliché, but you’ve got to play for something.
“There’s no lack of want-to on this team. Everyone wants to win and everyone wants to go out and put in work to do that, but sometimes you want something really bad and you don’t get it, you know? That’s just how it is. We’re all going to go back, we’re going to work our asses off this week and we’re going to find a way to get it done. Something’s got to give, you know?”
It’s been the Cougars giving for much of this season. They’ve lost six games in a row now, their perplexingly bad outing against Utah supplanting an awful loss to one-win Colorado as the worst of the season.
On the bright side, this week’s opponent, UCLA – leaders of the Pac-12 South with a 7-2 record and 4-2 in conference – managed a measly, ho-hum 66-10 win over Arizona on Saturday. And the Bruins, who opened as a 14-point favorite over WSU, could have scored 73.
Each of WSU’s remaining opponents holds a winning record. Arizona State (5-4, 3-3) hosts the Cougars on Nov. 17, and Washington (5-4, 3-3) visits Pullman the day after Thanksgiving.
Given the Cougars’ performance Saturday, most signs point to a 2-10 season. How WSU responds will dictate whether they can avoid that distinction.
“These next three games are going to be character,” offensive lineman John Fullington said. “So what you’ll get out of us is character and hard work. … We’re going to go out there and promise we’re going to give it our all. Once we win, I know it’s going to be fun again.”
“I’m tired of losing,” freshman left tackle Gunnar Eklund said. “And we have three games left and we’ve got to worry about next week, but this is bad. Not fun at all for me, personally.”
Joy, in some form or fashion, remains the goal.