First thing, because I've listened to a couple of the callers on Vince and Dennis Patchin's call-in show, is that this is going to be a loss a lot of people react strongly to. It's understandable, fans saw a dominant, record-setting performance by Connor Halliday end in a loss because Cal scored 60 points and the Cougars could only manage 59.
And yes, after the first three series the defense only managed one stop. And special teams was rough, even in a game in which Ivan McLennan blocked an extra point and Erik Powell recovered his own onside kick.
But the biggest reason this one hurts if you're a fan is because for the entire game, and even before the game when you were driving into Pullman, you felt like the Cougars were going to win. Cal's a good team – the Bears are a Hail Mary away from a 5-0 with three Pac-12 wins, they've scored at least 49 points in every game except their season-opener, which was a road win.
Washington State has had Pac-12 home games against California and Oregon now and in both games the stands were full, the crowd was alive and the energy in the stadium was that of a fanbase that expects to win.
I don't remember that being the case last season.
So sure, no "moral victories" and all that but I don't think it's a moral victory to say that the standards at WSU are clearly getting higher due to the play of the Cougars and that's important. If I was one of those 10 highly-regarded kids the recruiting websites say took unofficial visits today I think I'd have had a pretty fun time in Martin Stadium, whether or not the final kick was good.
More thoughts are after the jump.
-- Let's start with a positive. That WSU offensive line could be really, really good next year. Heck, it's pretty good right now and there are no senior starters. Halliday dropped back to pass 73 times and wasn't sacked once. There were a couple plays where he seemed to have enough time to go through every read, see nobody was open, and start over against until someone broke free.
-- Now for something not so good. The coverage units have given up three touchdowns in the last two weeks and that's a scary statistic with Stanford and Ty Montgomery up next. It seems that the same tackling issues that affected the WSU defense in the second half spilled over to special teams and whether it's a schematic issue or a personnel one it needs to get fixed quickly or this might not be the only game that could have been a win but for a 100-yard return or two.
-- I've seen a couple different writers who've mentioned Halliday as a left-field Heisman candidate recently and honestly, I didn’t give it any thought. Frankly, he's still not going to be a serious candidate unless the Cougars run the table. The award is too depended on wins and the Cougars are 2-4. But after tonight's performance, I'm not so sure that he isn't worth spilling a little hypothetical Heisman ink over. And certainly, those who still rag on him online don't have a leg to stand on. Through six games he's thrown for 3,052 yards and 26 touchdowns. He owns the single-game FBS passing record, and there are a lot of "system" quarterbacks that never came close to 734 yards in a game. That interception problem? It isn't a problem. He's thrown seven in 369 attempts. For me the ultimate question though is, at least in this game, if you take out Halliday and make Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, whoever the WSU quarterback, do the Cougars win the game? I say no, unless you also bring back Andrew Furney.
-- The reality is, kicking consistency is probably going to be an issue for the rest of the season. Remember, Quentin Breshears took over as the starter when Erik Powell missed a chip shot of his own against Nevada. It is what it is.
-- After the game Leach acknowledged that in hindsight it would have been better for Halliday to not have called timeout before taking a shot at the end zone, but that with a running clock and in the heat of the moment he understands why Halliday called timeout and doesn't think it was a bad decision. I get that. But I still think the Cougars might as well have taken a shot after the timeout, especially with the way Connor was playing and with guys like Dom Williams or Vince Mayle to catch a slant or fade or something. But, I guess Halliday put it best when he said, "I mean, it's an 18-yard kick."
-- Final thought is that these night games will be the death of me, especially if they keep happening in conjunction with passing offenses and officials that feel the need to review every play. Having a game that finishes after deadline is almost as fun as leaving the press box at 2 a.m.