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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Blanchette: Cougs suffer rout in rain as Seattle game shows rust

A record-low Seattle crowd watched Mike Leach’s team lose. (Tyler Tjomsland)

SEATTLE – Not only is the shine off this Seattle road show, the rust is on.

Well, an inch of rain will do that.

But it isn’t just the weather. Washington State’s earnest mission to the masses in the Gore-Tex corridor is inevitable, necessary and not going anywhere – which is to say it’s here to stay, but also an exercise in wheel spinning.

Or worse.

The lugnuts didn’t just come loose on the Cougars’ retooled wagon Saturday night at CenturyLink Field. Stanford blew their doors off, too. Not a lot of shame in that, necessarily – the Cardinal have come by their No. 5 ranking legitimately.

Still, for a team that had reason to feel good about itself (or at least better about itself), the 55-17 thrashing was a significant step backward, if not an outright calamity.

“We couldn’t get out of our own way tonight,” lamented receiver Gabe Marks.

Mike Leach mostly disagreed, being Mr. Move-on-to-the-Next-Game and all – win, lose or have both your quarterbacks beheaded.

“Part of it is identifying how close we are,” he said, addressing the need for an emotional rebound, “and that’s a fact.”

But it was also a fact that this exercise went from the Cougs hanging tough, or sort of, to a third-quarter meltdown that rivaled a Kanye encounter with a paparazzo.

The ugliest moment of that ugly quarter was WSU quarterback Connor Halliday taking a crushing lick in the gizzle from blitzing linebacker Trent Murphy. He bravely peeled himself off the deck, but was soon enough helped to the locker room with an ominous limp – just about the time backup Austin Apodaca was getting planted himself.

Apodaca got up and came back. The Cougs, not so much.

The insult added to Halliday’s injury was Stanford’s Jordan Richards settling in under his can-of-corn pass and running it in 30 yards for a touchdown. Within a few minutes, Michael Rector had dusted on WSU’s Taylor Taliulu on a long touchdown pass, and Murphy had plucked a wimpy Apodaca toss in the backfield and rumbled 30 yards for another score himself.

Thus did a 17-3 grinder with a sprinkle of hope (amid the other sprinkles) turn into an unsightly rout.

Not that there wasn’t some fool’s gold in that early score.

If Deone Bucannon doesn’t make a splendid play to intercept a pass on the 17th play of a Stanford drive late in the second quarter, the Cougars go into the locker room down three touchdowns, and Leach might have had some stronger solutions for the halftime interviewer than simply, “Play better.”

As it was, the Cardinal had managed to establish why they were who they were. They picked up every Cougar blitz they needed to, which meant they converted virtually every third down they needed to, which meant Halliday and the offense needed to be pretty much perfect – and fell well short.

The Cougars weren’t cartoonishly overmatched as they’ve been so many times in the 20-teens. But they were still overmatched.

But, hey, recovery might just be a plane ride away. The Cougars are at Cal next week, and the Bears were just as feeble against their ranked tormentors on Saturday as was Wazzu.

But that’s like two horses heading back to the $1,500 claiming races, isn’t it? And the Cougs may be down a quarterback.

“It felt like we’re at this point as a team where we need to decide if we’re going to change,” center Elliott Bosch said, “or if we’re going to be like last year’s team. At times it felt like last year’s team.

“We need to refocus and remember why we’re doing this.”

As for the Seattle spectacle, well, the sizzle is long gone.

The Cougars have now lost five of these games in a row. The announced crowd of 40,095 was the lowest since the Cougars started the Qwest/Clink one-night stands in 2002, which is a funny way for the troops to show their collective agoggedness over the $11 million dollar miracle worker’s righting of the program. Yes, a good many were kept away by the ghastly weather, and most of the rest may still have been marooned on Interstate 90 at the Easton Choke.

Plus, the game was on ESPN. You know, a channel that DirecTV customers actually get.

Athletic director Bill Moos’ grand plan for the Seattle game was alternating dates with the Oregon schools, whose fans are close enough to be enticed across the border (and who are conditioned to a good soaking, if that’s what is in the forecast). The Pac-12 more or less undid that strategy with its schedule this year, forcing Moos to choose between taking the Stanford game to the Clink or playing three straight in Pullman, followed by a month out of town.

And next year? Welcome, Rutgers fans!

Maybe the Cougs will have the rust scraped off by then.