PULLMAN – Let’s try that one again, shall we?
Washington State lost an opportunity against an easy opponent to win a game in front of its home crowd a couple of weeks ago, meaning it has now been more than a year since Cougars fans last saw a win in Martin Stadium.
Heavily favored against Wyoming today, WSU has one more chance to give its fans hope that it will be worth making the long, expensive trips to Pullman in the coming months when the team hosts Pac-12 opponents.
If the team can win handily, scoring touchdowns and getting stops, it will be all the better for convincing people that they will be rewarded for blocking out their autumn weekends. The Cougars saw the effects of a slight and lifeless crowd against Portland State, when their own play was slight and lifeless in the second half.
For whatever reason, the Cougars have been a more dangerous team on the road than at home. WSU has six wins against FBS teams since 2012 and only one of those happened in Pullman. The Cougars last home win was on Sept. 13, 2014 over Portland State. Their last win over an FBS team in Pullman was on Nov. 23, 2013, when they outlasted Utah.
“I don’t know. It’s a good question because we keep the routine pretty close, specifically close,” coach Mike Leach said.
Defensive lineman Darryl Paulo said the boos from the opposing crowd on the road get him energized. But he added that the Cougars have been more buoyant since the win, and perhaps that will carry over into today’s game.
“You’re a lot more excited to do things. Last week, after the loss we came in kind of dragging, though we were still eager to turn things around,” Paulo said. “This week we came in and there was a lot more energy in the weight room and at practice.”
Today’s game will be a chance for the Cougars to get on the right track in ways other than learning how to win at home. Leach would like to see River Cracraft, one of the team’s best wide receivers all three years he’s been at WSU, show the same focus he had during the winning drive at Rutgers, when he made three catches, including the touchdown.
“When he plays consistently hard, does that and is where he’s supposed to be, that’s what allowed him to play early was that reliability,” Leach said. “I didn’t think in camp he necessarily had that to the extent that he had in the past, and then I think the last couple weeks though, he’s become more reliable.”
The Cougars still clearly have some work to do on special teams. While the 55-yard punt return for a touchdown given up at Rutgers might be explained away – the call was to punt the ball out of bounds – the kickoff that was returned for a score showed the same issues that played WSU last season, with three players losing leverage.
The more often the Cougars score against the Cowboys, the more kickoffs they will cover, and the team could really use the practice.
Mostly, today’s game will be a test of whether or not the Cougars will adhere to Leach’s mandate of “respect everyone, fear no one.” The Cougars did it against Rutgers, a Big Ten team that was favored, and they did it for a half against PSU. But when WSU led by 10 at halftime, the Cougars stopped treating the Vikings like an opponent that could beat them, and of course, they did.
“We thought we’d go out there and just make plays because we had a good summer,” quarterback Luke Falk said. “Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen.”
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