ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – As is the case with many teams, Washington State’s football coaches have a policy that they and their players can celebrate their wins and mourn their losses for 24 hours.
The Cougars seemed ready to move on about 24 minutes after giving up a 15-point lead in the closing moments of the New Mexico Bowl.
It may be a tough loss to flush, however, without the distraction of an upcoming opponent until a date with Rutgers in eight months.
“It sucks, it’s going to be sitting with us all the offseason,” offensive lineman Joe Dahl said after the Cougars fell 48-45 to Colorado State. “We really wanted to win that game for the seniors and everyone in the program. We couldn’t get it done, I guess.”
Before the game, the Cougars maintained their season-long refrain that every game was equally important because it was the next game, denying that the bowl game had any special significance. Perhaps it was the manner in which WSU lost, then, that caused the Cougars additional grief.
“I think everybody in that locker room really wanted this one,” quarterback Connor Halliday said. “I think everyone was really excited to play and we prepared well, film studies, and it hurts that we have to look ourselves in the mirror knowing that we weren’t able to win the game as an offense, running the clock out, getting first downs and keeping our defense off the field.”
The challenge, then, is for WSU (6-7, 4-5 Pac-12) to prove that Saturday’s loss was not a stumble in their ascent as a program, and that finishing the season with a winning record matters only for aesthetics.
After the game, coach Mike Leach and his players were adamant that, while it hurt to lose the game, the loss did nothing to diminish the impact of making it to WSU’s first bowl game since 2003.
“As it is we won at least four more games than everybody thought we were going to win and I think that’s good,” Leach said. “The only diminishing that exists is throughout the season there are also missed opportunities, there are ways we could have played better and we have to develop the skills and focus to do that.”
Now begins the second full offseason under Leach, who will use the time to further familiarize the players with his philosophy and his Air Raid offense.
With the team closing in on the end of its third presidential term without a winning season, Leach says that the time spent reinforcing the positive track the Cougars are on, having doubled their win total over the 2012 season, will also pay dividends.
“I think we’re honestly a little better team than we – honestly, across the board – believe we are,” Leach said. “But some of that has to do with – you say, ‘confidence breeds success, success breeds confidence.’ Some of it’s just offseasons and time on the practice field in order to develop those skills and get a visual of what you’re really capable of individually.”