PULLMAN – If football games ended after three quarters, Washington State’s record would be no different than it is now. The Cougars have played well enough through the first, second and third quarter this season to dispatch Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington. But the fourth is why all three have been so lopsided.
This season, the Cougars are outscoring opponents 38-2 in the first quarter, but their play tends to dip in the second, where they hold a slight 27-24 margin, and again in the third, where they’ve actually been outscored 17-14.
Fortunately, they’re bludgeoning opponents in the fourth quarter.
WSU took a 20-19 lead into the final period of the season opener at Wyoming, then outscored the Cowboys 21-0 to win 41-19. The Cougars weren’t as destructive in the fourth against SJSU, but still edged out the Spartans 7-0 for a 31-0 win. Then WSU led by 11 points after the third quarter against EWU, and wound up winning by 35 after outscoring the Eagles 24-0 in the final quarter.
So, that’s 52 points for the Cougars and zero for their opposition in the fourth quarter this season.
“Shoot, I might tell them they’re all the fourth quarter if it’ll work,” WSU coach Mike Leach quipped during Monday’s weekly news conference. “I think that is something we’d like to manufacture.”
Leach suggests the Cougars have somehow found a way to play well in all three phases during the fourth quarter and it’s evidenced not only by the scoring margin in that period, but by the discrepancy in offensive yardage gained.
WSU has exceeded 150 yards in the fourth quarter of each game this season and the Cougars are averaging 154.3. There’s a major contrast between that number and the one their opponents have posted: 30.6 yards-per-fourth quarter. None of the three have totaled more than 50 yards in the fourth and both Wyoming and SJSU failed to clear 30.
“We’ve gotten quite a few plays in the fourth quarter also, so we’re just trying to manufacture that for all the quarters, really,” Leach said. “I guess in Wyoming we kind of evolved as a team and just got better as we got more reps in and some of that happened around the fourth quarter. I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s timing or what, but we have I thought – that’s where we’ve played well on all three sides.”
The Cougars also gather as a team on the sideline before the fourth quarter begins and reemphasize the importance of closing out games.
“We know that you can only win a game in the fourth quarter,” defensive lineman Nick Begg said. “That’s the most important quarter of the game. We try to do our best to give no fourth quarter points to the other team. That’s pretty much our goal on defense and I think our offense has taken that fourth-quarter mentality on, too, because they’ve been really turning it on in the fourth, too.”
Safety Skyler Thomas, the team’s leading tackler through three games, believes the Cougars are “more locked in” during the fourth quarter, realizing “it’s like crunch time.”
“So everyone focuses in on doing their job,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing on our defense.”
And maybe the Cougars can keep their fourth-quarter mojo alive for at least another week. Their next foe, USC, hasn’t scored in the final period of its last two games.
“It’s just the most important quarter of the game,” Begg said, “and I think our team’s starting to realize that.”
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