PULLMAN – The Cougars were angry on Saturday night, as if something had been stolen from them.
They had scant minutes to recover from the their ricochet across the spectrum of emotions before suddenly they were made to sit still in a Spartan room and answer questions about the very things they least wanted to talk about, with the added annoyance of lights and cameras in their faces.
Pride and policy prevented them from blaming their anger on the thing most-likely responsible for its appearance: the decision to not award a fumble to the Cougars despite ample video evidence showing that would have been the correct call.
With nowhere to direct their frustration and no time for the anger to dissipate, Washington State’s postgame press conference after Saturday’s 30-28 loss to No. 8 Stanford was a tense affair.
When a reporter asked coach Mike Leach why the Cougars did not use running plays to take time off the clock when they had the lead and possession with three minutes left, the coach queried whether or not the questioner was “an idiot” before moving to the next question.
As he walked to the podium, wide receiver Gabe Marks asked the assembled media to please not ask any questions about the tempestuous weather, saying that any would be met with clipped responses.
The Cougars played well enough to beat the Pac-12’s best team on Saturday, and it wasn’t because the Cardinal gave them any free opportunities. The Cardinal tried to establish power game with running back Christian McCaffrey, but the Cougars were ready for it.
While quarterback Kevin Hogan wasn’t able to get much going in the passing game, his surprising effectiveness running the ball kept the Stanford offense multidimensional.
Stanford gave its usual medicine to the Cougars, who found it palatable.
“They were doing a little bit of everything,” said Stanford coach David Shaw. “Some of it was just four-man rush, but to be honest, they beat our guys up front. A couple of times they just beat us one-on-on – on things that we’ve seen before. … They were more ready and prepared than we were.”
Nor was this a game in which the Cougars played their absolute best, rising above their own perceived abilities to take a big swing at an impressive opponent.
If Erik Powell, who put the Cougars in a position to win with some very difficult kicks earlier in the game, had come through one last time then WSU would have won. Then, instead of lamenting a loss, WSU fans would be giving the what-if treatment to the few miscues earlier in the season that kept their team from having an undefeated record.
Quarterback Luke Falk appeared too amped in the first quarter, or maybe he was struggling to adapt to a wet ball. Whatever the reason, many of his passes early in the game sailed high of their mark, preventing the Cougars from putting together a few extra scoring drives that would have made the difference.
The WSU defense played well for the most part, but if a couple gaps had been better covered then Hogan doesn’t rush for more than 100 yards on just 10 carries, setting up a Stanford touchdown with a 40-yard run and scoring another from 59 yards away.
Those miscues serve as reasons to be optimistic about the still-untapped potential of this WSU team. But they are also why the Cougars were so testy after the game, knowing they came so close to transformative success.
“It’s frustrating because we could play better,” Leach said. “We could play better on all three sides.”
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