PULLMAN – Washington State enters Saturday’s late game against Oregon State on the cusp of many achievements.
The Top 25? Both the Associated Press and the coaches rank the Cougars No. 26.
A bowl game? WSU (5-2, 4-0 Pac-12) will be bowl eligible with a win.
The Cougars have won four Pac-12 games in a row. They have not won five consecutive games to start Pac-12 play since the 2002 team that went to the Rose Bowl.
All that stands between the Cougars and a decisive blow to the old checklist is OSU (2-5, 1-3), a team that has yet to show it can play at WSU’s level. But you don’t need anyone to tell you a Pac-12 road game that starts at 7:45 p.m. (two days before Halloween, no less) is a prescription for the unexpected.
“I feel what you feel,” wide receiver Gabe Marks said when asked about the Pac-12’s tendency toward the uncertain in night games.
“You obviously think that anybody can be beaten in the Pac-12, and Pac-12 after dark is crazy and it’s great TV,” Marks said. “Everybody should watch Pac-12 football because you never know what you’re going to get.”
For OSU coach Gary Andersen’s part, he does not need to give the Cougars any more ammunition. He was complimentary, if not deferential, toward WSU this week, and his quotes about the Cougars are more likely to end up on WSU’s promotional material than inside its locker room.
“These guys obviously have a very potent offense – score a bunch of points – and are playing very solid on defense,” Andersen said. “Salty, tough defense. Run to the ball, physical, aggressive, and the team is playing at a very high level. That’s why they’re winning football games.”
But Andersen, who two years ago was coaching Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, has experience beating teams like the Cougars. And his Beavers have already done some impressive things.
The second-year coach’s first Pac-12 win came earlier this year against California, which has the country’s No. 2 passing offense. The Beavers held Cal quarterback Davis Webb to 113 yards on 44 pass attempts, and picked him off once.
So quarterback Luke Falk faces a surprisingly tough challenge in his return to Reser Stadium, where he made his starting debut two years ago.
Furthermore, the Cougars have looked like a team ripe to be upset the last two weeks as they have let fourth-quarter leads dwindle in consecutive games.
“Just getting lazy, I think. Kind of letting up at the end, probably, which is not really like us,” Marks said. “Shouldn’t be like us, you know. It’s just something we’ve got to keep emphasizing in practice.”
Now, WSU will probably beat the Beavers. They are favored by nearly two touchdowns and Anderson’s rebuild has been derailed by injuries this year. The Beavers are hoping to get backup quarterback Conor Blount, a freshman walk-on, back for this game.
Two offensive linemen, a defensive lineman, four defensive backs and a tight end are out for the season, as is former starting quarterback Darell Garretson. Though the Beavers have ran the ball in recent weeks, they are still adapting to an overhaul of the offensive line earlier this month and the Cougars boast the second-best rushing defense in the Pac-12.
WSU should win. All those voters on the East Coast are going to go to bed assuming WSU will win. But when the lights are on and the shadows get long, crazy things tend to happen in the Pac-12.
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