PULLMAN — Fresh off of one of the toughest one-quarter beatings a team can take, the Washington State Cougars won’t have much time to lick their wounds.
After giving up 35 unanswered points over the last 16 minutes, 3 seconds of Saturday’s game against Oregon State, the Cougars will travel to Eugene this week to take on the second-ranked University of Oregon and its high-octane offense.
It may be the least opportune time possible to play the Ducks, as the Cougars could improve immensely over the coming week and still look entirely mismatched against Oregon, which has won at least 10 games every year since 2007.
Led by Heisman-worthy quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks lead the Pac-12 in both passing and rushing. One could make a good argument they boast the league’s best defense as well.
Coach Mike Leach isn’t worried about the Ducks, or anyone else for that matter. Disgusted with his team’s performance late in the game on Saturday, he isn’t trying to look for tangible, correctable reasons the Cougars lost.
“We’ve got to focus on stuff that helps you change,” Leach said after the game. “Anytime you come up with an alibi for the type of meltdown that we had, you’re not going to get better, you’re not going to improve.”
The nature of Saturday’s loss will make it difficult for the team to quickly correct what went wrong. Physically, the Cougars matched up fine with the Beavers, a fact that was illustrated as the teams entered the fourth quarter with the game tied at 24. There we no schematic deficiencies preventing the Cougars from walking out of Martin Stadium with a victory.
So the game’s lopsided score reflected a much more nebulous gap between the teams. Slippery, but still gaping.
“We need to worry about being the best team we can be,” Leach said. “And that would be one thing we quit doing about two-thirds in. We quit worrying about being the best team we could be and then they scored on play, after play, after play.”
If WSU can lose that badly because of insubstantial deficiencies, it will be all but impossible to hang with a more talented team like the Ducks without a massive mental overhaul.
And yet the Cougars believe it can be done.
“We’ve just got to go out and play our game. So far the way we’ve played all year nobody’s been able to stop us,” running back Marcus Mason said. “We’ve only been able to stop ourselves. So as long as we don’t stop ourselves we’ll win every other game.”
Those strong words reflect the brash attitude that was gone from Martin Stadium on Saturday. Now Mason and his teammates have to back them up against the conference’s best.