PULLMAN – The Cougars waited until their backs were firmly against the wall, but with four games left and needing four wins to be eligible for a bowl game, Washington State football players admitted to a little big-picture thinking during Monday’s press conference.
Typically talk of seasonal context or overall record or even the score is anathema to the Cougars, who profess to focus on nothing other than the next play if not the next breath. But with such an obvious goal of making the postseason hinging upon the ability of WSU (2-6, 1-4) to play perfectly the rest of the way, it’s understandably on their minds.
“Basically, it’s a four-game playoff series and we have to do everything in our power to come out victorious for these next four games,” said junior linebacker Jeremiah Allison.
Some of that motivation doubtlessly stems from the fact that the Cougars are so close to having some wiggle room in their postseason ambitions.
Saturday’s 59-37 loss to Arizona was WSU’s first defeat of the season in which the game wasn’t within a touchdown during the fourth quarter.
Games against Rutgers, Oregon and California were all in question during WSU’s final offensive drives and the latter two games were decided in part by questionable or downright incorrect officiating decisions.
Of course, fumbles and missed kicks didn’t help, either.
“(We are) real close to being 5-3, 4-4 something like that, 6-2, but just haven’t made enough plays in crunch time when we needed them,” quarterback Connor Halliday said. “I think we’ve played some really good football games, I think we just kind of, not to be negative in any way, but just kind of found a way to lose some games.”
So the Cougars need to win four games and the more immediate need seems to be what to do about a young secondary that has been reduced to sending in an untested true freshman to replace the redshirt freshman that was unable to play.
“I mean, we had three guys back there last week that combined have probably played about a half of Division I football,” coach Mike Leach said.
Restoring the confidence of young players who dominated in high school but aren’t yet physically or mentally ready to play against Pac-12 starters three years older than them is priority No. 1.
“It’s very important,” receiver Vince Mayle said. “If you’re not confident and you’re just looking at the guy across from you and you feel he’s going to do his job better than you’re going to do your job then you’ve already lost. Confidence is key.”
The NCAA gave the five major athletic conferences the power to govern themselves, and the Pac-12 wasted no time, announcing sweeping reforms that will widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots in Division I athletics.
Scholarships, for example, have always been granted on a yearly basis but all athletes at Pac-12 schools will now be given four-year scholarships. Additionally, players who leave college early will be able to return and use their educational expenses toward a degree, as long as they have completed 50 percent of their graduation requirements.
Medical expenses for injured athletes will be covered for up to four years after the athlete leaves school and players who transfer between Pac-12 schools will be able to receive athletic scholarships immediately.
“This fulfills a promise we made when we announced our agenda for reform earlier this year,” said WSU president and chairman of the conference’s CEO Group, Dr. Elson S. Floyd, in a statement.
“These reforms assure better support for all our student-athletes, reinforce that academics come first, and address the financial and health needs of our students.”
OSU game time announced
Washington State’s Nov. 8 game at Oregon State will kick off at 1 p.m. and be televised by the Pac-12 Networks, the conference announced Monday.
It will be the third consecutive afternoon game for the Cougars, who opened the year with seven consecutive games at night.
Last season the Cougars led the Beavers 24-17 late in the third quarter but gave up 28 unanswered points in the final period to lose, 52-24, in Pullman.
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