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John Blanchette: Mike Leach steals the show … after the game

Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach reacts to a call against his team during the second half of a college football game against Cal on Friday, October 13, 2017, at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Calif. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The most remarkable thing about Washington State’s not-ready-for-even-subprime-time play in getting beat 373-3, or something along those lines, on Friday night wasn’t the 17 turnovers or the 29 sacks or the 12 Cal students who stuck around to, uh, storm the field.

It was the muted reaction.

Wait, not muted, exactly. More like impishly conspiratorial. Like Flounder gushing, “Oh, boy, is this great!” before realizing he’s supposed to shoot the horse.

Because everyone knew what was coming.

“We were pathetic,” growled Mike Leach in the post-game media wrangle. “We were a bunch of pathetic front-runners.”

And Twitter America – even Cougar America – lit up.

Guy is always money … Never change, Mike Leach … Must-watch … Epic … Mike Leach is a national treasure …

And he didn’t even have to come up with a Woodstock reference, though “This was just like Altamont, only without the Hells Angels stabbing a guy” would have fit, given the locale.

There was no doubt disappointment and even despair about such a disaster on the field among the Wazzu fan base, but as noted it was hardly over the top — and that’s probably a healthy sign.

It may have been a tacit acknowledgement that no one had lost his mind and was convinced the Cougs were headed for 12-0 anyway, the rigors of college football and the road being what they are. Note was probably taken of the unholy amount of turnovers – and the uncanny way the Bears were forever there to collect wacky bounces and make shoe-top scoops – and a conclusion drawn that a karma payback will be due down the line.

There’s still a good team with a promising future in residence, and it could turn out to be special yet. Even scorched-earth Mike Leach eased up some to concede as much.

“There’s nothing wrong with us as a team,” he said. “We have a good locker room, we’ll rally and we’ll be just fine.”

But that’s not the Leachurgy the congregation tuned in to hear.

“Some kind of celebrity softball tournament,” he groused at one point.

He really does have a softball hangup. Last year it was junior college softball, this year celebrities. Church leaguers had better steel themselves for his next salvo.

When the Cougars lose or struggle, Leach’s vague explanations usually fall into one of three categories:

A) The players were trying to do too much.

B) The players were trying to be too perfect and not letting it rip (which is either the same thing or something completely different).

C) The players aren’t tough.

The last one seems to be his favorite, as it implies how tough he is and clears the decks for him to go all hard-core in the ensuing week and beyond. But he knows to use it sparingly – maybe just once a year, lest his video-clip groupies grow tired of it. This time, his targets were the offensive line (”not very tough) and receivers (”not very tough, either”) and even the defense.

“They’re terrible, they’re terrible,” he said to a questioner who hinted otherwise. “What game did you watch? The defense had to play for eight minutes the first half and Cal scored whatever points they did. The running back over there, they treated him like an all-star down the stretch.”

Curious that a coach who uses time-of-possession stats to sop up the spills from his water bottle would beat his defense over the head with time of possession, but whatever. What that screed obscured was the fact the defense gave up all of 84 yards in surrendering those 17 first-half points, the Bears’ average possession starting at midfield. The score could as easily have been 28-3 at half. And after that, there was one significant Cal drive. Seems like good enough defense to win.

Of course, that would portray it as something less than the team failure it was. Or it would put more of the onus on Leach’s offense, where there are some disquieting signs.

One is that, yes, the offensive line has not played up to its notices, even in some wins. Two is that it’s almost a given that when the Cougs go south, their running game has been abandoned (just 14 carries for the backs, who averaged more than five yards a pop). Outside receivers Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack haven’t been playmakers for two weeks running. And quarterback Luke Falk probably should have been relieved – but having that happen twice in a season tends to torpedo a Heisman campaign. Or else Leach didn’t think backup Tyler Hilinski could handle the Bears’ mix of looks and coverages, either, which means the coach didn’t have any more tools to help the cause.

But, hey, he won the press conference. Some folks think that’s as good as winning the game.