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

Cougars will never play a ‘complete’ game, but Saturday was darn good

Jacob Thorpe The Spokesman-Review

EUGENE – The truly “complete” game is an elusive, taunting leprechaun the Washington State Cougars will never catch and will never stop chasing.

But though perfection is unattainable, Saturday’s 45-38 double-overtime win at Oregon on Saturday saw the Cougars (3-2, 1-1 Pac-12) play together in a way that shows them getting closer to their target.

“I don’t think it was complete but I think we played extremely hard the whole time,” coach Mike Leach said. “I thought we were tough until the end, I think we could have made it easier than we did but I thought all sides of the ball played hard. I thought we rose up, offense, defense and special teams.”

And, truly, every unit had some superlative performance or other that contributed to WSU’s first win in Autzen Stadium since 2003.

The Cougars offense scored 10 points in just over two minutes to tie the game, and scored touchdowns in each of the overtime periods to outlast the Ducks. The WSU defense overcame a special day for supremely talented UO back Royce Freeman to hold the Ducks to five conversions in 16 third-down attempts.

And though WSU had a field-goal attempt blocked, the special teams units suffered no other major blunders and held the Ducks without any significant returns of kickoffs or punts.

Leach acknowledges that Saturday’s win can be a turning-point game to the point that the Cougars should be improving each week and that they can pile up wins by continually improving, provided all three units again play hard and focused in this Saturday’s homecoming game against Oregon State.

“We have to go one week at a time, and we have to stack (good performances),” said running back Jamal Morrow.

The most glaring issue the Cougars must address is the offense’s recent penchant for giving up sacks. Whether because Luke Falk holds onto the ball too long or because the offensive line hasn’t held its blocks long enough, the Cougars have given up seven sacks in both of their Pac-12 games.

The accumulated hits are bound to take a toll on Falk as the season goes on and its tough to see how the team can get better if its quarterback isn’t at full strength.

Defensively, the Cougars must limit big plays and shore up the run defense, although its unlikely to face another running back as hard to stop as Royce Freeman this season, and few backups with the talent of UO freshman Taj Griffin.

The Cougars home crowd has only seen two subpar efforts this season, a loss to PSU and an uninspiring win over Wyoming.

WSU showed considerable improvement in its two Pac-12 road games, keeping it close on the road against a ranked California team and beating the Ducks in Eugene.

The Cougars will have a chance to show their home fans how much they have developed and put together a near-complete game at home this Saturday at 1 p.m. in their homecoming matchup against OSU.