A week of distractions ends with another blowout defeat

Share story

TEMPE, Ariz. — Fifty weeks ago, when Washington State rattled the college-football world by hiring Mike Leach, one of his mentors, Hal Mumme, weighed in on what was in store at WSU.

“You’re going to have more fun than you’ve ever had,” Mumme said.

Well, I hate to speak for anybody else he might have been referring to, but I haven’t had such fun since I locked keys inside a rental car with the engine running a few years ago.

Today, the jollies are so far in the distance for the Cougars, you can’t find them with the Hubble telescope. They continued their season of misadventure here in the desert Saturday with a 46-7 meltdown against Arizona State.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

This was an eighth consecutive defeat for WSU, and clearly, the best thing that can happen for the Cougars is to get this season over — the day before yesterday, if possible.

But there’s one game left, and of course, it’s Washington in Pullman on Friday, and if WSU is going to carry anything remotely upbeat into the offseason, it rides on that game.

Asked what Leach told the Cougars in the locker room, quarterback Jeff Tuel said, “Basically, when you get on the plane, to forget about this game, and put everything you’ve got into this Apple Cup and this last game. No reason to dwell on this, and don’t show up Sunday unless you’re fully committed to this team and beating Washington.”

The game had some of the same notes as the controversial day in Utah two weeks before — almost an identical score, and the Cougars failing to get into the end zone until the final minute.

Still, it was different. There was effort here — the Cougars had 10 tackles for loss, and four sacks — just a killing absence of execution. In many instances, WSU (2-9) was outquicked by the Sun Devils (6-5), a team that had lost four in a row, and when you think about it, that might be a failing that’s going to take longer to fix than the lack of will that galled Leach so deeply in Salt Lake City.

“I thought we played hard, but when we faced adversity, we went frantic,” Leach said. “We’d run hard and miss tackles. We’d run routes and try to go upfield before the ball got there and drop balls. We ran hard but didn’t execute well.”

It was a week ago that star receiver Marquess Wilson visited turmoil on the program by leaving the team and alleging abuse. Players and staffers were interviewed as part of reviews of the charges last week, and though that couldn’t have equalized a 39-point deficit, it didn’t help.

“Could have,” said Leach, to the question of whether it affected WSU. “Clearly, there’s some distractions to it.”

It’s believed that the parallel investigations by WSU and the Pac-12 are nearing the conclusion stage, and Leach hinted the results will be benign.

“Of course, it’s bearing out for what it is,” he said. “It’s an unnecessary distraction that really shouldn’t have existed in the first place … there wasn’t anything (discovered) negative.”

Until they kicked off here, he meant.

Four plays into the game, the Cougars dribbled another deep snap back to punter Mike Bowlin — if you missed it, just cue up the UCLA-WSU first half — and Arizona State took over at the Cougars’ 6-yard line. The defense smothered the Sun Devils and held them to a field goal.

But a nasty pattern was established. Due to faulty special teams and a chronically balky offense, the Cougars’ first-half field position was awful. WSU’s average start was at its 15, Arizona State’s was at the 50.

“We were definitely playing with our backs to the wall that whole first half,” said Tuel, who gave way to Connor Halliday early in the second quarter.

ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly completed 20 of 23 passes, including a school-record 18 in a row to end the game. And last week, UCLA’s Brett Hundley went 18 for 21, and the week before that, Utah freshman Travis Wilson was 17 of 21. So the past three opposing starting quarterbacks are 55 of 65, or 84.6 percent, which means Washington’s Keith Price might beg to leave for Pullman on Tuesday instead of Thursday.

It was that kind of weekend for Leach, who went to a nearby high-school game Friday night, only to see WSU’s four-star quarterback commit, Tyler Bruggman, complete 4 of 19 for 24 yards.

Like the rest of Cougar Nation, the man really knows how to have fun.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.