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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cougars hope to dig out of 0-2 hole


RENO, Nev. – Overheard in the Reno airport on Saturday morning were the groans and grumbles of those who came to the Biggest Little City in the World and lost.

Oh, the dice may have been hot and perhaps the slots were loose but the show was a disaster. The opening number was dreadful, the ending awful and the lack of electricity among the performers made one wonder why this troupe had bothered touring to Reno in the first place.

Yes, the hangover suffered by the departing Washington State football fans will linger after a hard night of watching their Cougars lose to Nevada of the Mountain West Conference, 24-13.

Two games into the 2013 season there was a buzz around the Cougars, who had followed a close loss at Auburn with an improbable win over a ranked USC team at the Coliseum.

The math looked good for WSU to go to a bowl game, which it did, and the Cougars were competing with and beating teams that would have drilled them in the preceding decade.

A year later and the tenor of the fan base is distinctly different. Dating to last season’s Apple Cup, the Cougars are on a four-game losing streak and they were favored heading into their last three contests.

In order to make a bowl game now the Cougars must beat at least one team that has been ranked this season, and that’s assuming road wins at Oregon State and Utah, and cleaning up at home against Arizona and a much-improved California team.

Winning any of those games looked improbable on Friday night, when the Cougars scored the fewest points since their second game last season, the aforementioned win over the Trojans.

“The biggest thing is we’ve got to stick together and work hard and the thing is we can’t go soft. We have to make every play count,” coach Mike Leach said after the game.

“And the thing that happens is we have an inclination to make a good play and relax and go like, ‘Oh, that was a good play.’ ”

Leach indicated after both the Nevada and Rutgers losses that the team still hasn’t assumed the mental disposition needed to take advantage of its numerous weapons on offense, and placed the blame for that on himself and his coaching staff.

Quarterback Connor Halliday and his receivers have shown the capacity to be brilliant but have a tendency to “splatter” positive plays rather than stringing them together in scoring drives.

“I don’t think we play the next play very well,” Leach said. “I think we spend too many plays being disappointed over bad plays and I think that we are too long to be happy about good plays. We might as well draw numbers. We’ll get some plays, sure but we have to finish drives and it’s about as simple as that.”

And revving fan excitement back up to its preseason levels will be as simple as winning games, although finding those wins on one of the nation’s toughest schedules is getting more and more difficult.

But it’s obvious where the first one should come from. The Cougars can’t put themselves back in bowl contention in one weekend, but getting back in the wins column against FCS foe Portland State is a start.

“Just get a win Saturday,” Halliday said. “Just try and get to 1-2 and then the following week try to get to 2-2 and keep battling.”

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