Washington State coach Mike Leach said he thought his entire team played poorly after the 41-14 loss to Washington, which extended its Apple Cup losing streak to five games.
This year, it was all going to be different.
This year, Washington State was no longer going to be the Apple Cup doormat. The Cougars weren’t going to have their hopes and dreams snuffed in a swirl of purple. They weren’t going to allow Chris Petersen to look, once more, like he had smuggled out Mike Leach’s game plan.
This year, the Cougars had the motivation, they had the defense, and they had the quarterback, to change the story line and seize the night.
Except it wasn’t different at all. For the Cougars in the Petersen era, it was the same as it ever was, and that means a stunning blow to a season that had been dripping with the promise of greater things to come.
The Cougars lost the game, 41-14, and in the process, lost much of the luster they’d gained along the way. They ceded bragging rights yet again and squandered a chance to play in the Pac-12 title game against USC.
Let’s not mince words: This performance was an embarrassment for the Cougars. They were outplayed in every aspect by Washington, except perhaps punting. Now the conference-title game will be Stanford versus USC – two teams the Cougs beat, showing how high they’ve risen at times this year and emphasizing how far they fell on Saturday.
“I thought our entire team played poorly,’’ Leach said. “Somehow, as coaches, we weren’t able to get the anxiety out of their heads and get the best performance out of them. We were anxious, we were geeked up, we were hyped.
“We played extremely hard, don’t get me wrong there. But we played anxious, played frantic, overran things, over-pursued things, over-tried, overextended, all the overs. … The biggest thing, the team as a whole needs to settle down.”
Will this be Leach’s last Apple Cup? Rumors were swirling all day on the internet connecting him to the opening at the University of Tennessee. Leach didn’t exactly shoot them down, but asked if he expected to be back at Washington State, he replied: “Yeah, I do.”
Elaborating, Leach said, “I’m strictly focused on the Washington State Cougars. I have a limited knowledge of the internet, which is pretty clear. I don’t even turn anything on, other than my phone. Then when it gets stuck, my kids turn it on.
“You guys are on your own on that because I can’t speak to rumors I don’t know anything about, really. The biggest thing is, I’m focused on Washington State, excited about that. We’re going to a great bowl, and I for one couldn’t be happier.”
If he does come back to Pullman, however, Leach will have to figure out a way to get the best of Washington. Or, more accurately, keep the Huskies from getting the best of WSU. When asked if he thinks Washington has figured out a way to attack the Cougars that others haven’t, he scoffed at the notion.
“No, I don’t,’’ he replied. “I think they’re a really good team. Attack us? They attack a lot of teams this way. Right now, we’re in a long line of a lot of people.”
At one point in the first half, Leach gathered the entire team around him on the sideline and gave them an animated exhortation. That possession ended in a WSU punt that led to a 93-yard Husky scoring drive. The Huskies toyed with WSU all night long. In particular, they terrorized Falk, sacking him five times and harassing him into throwing three interceptions for the second straight year, as well as a costly lost fumble.
The Cougars were manhandled at the line of scrimmage by Washington, which got penetration with a three-man rush that allowed the Husky secondary to blanket the Cougar receiving corps. Leach had particular praise for UW nose guard Vita Vea, calling him the most disruptive player on the field.
The Cougars didn’t have an answer for Washington even when the Huskies lost star receiver Dante Pettis and running back Lavon Coleman to injury in the first half. They were outplayed, and one can only conclude outcoached, from the beginning.
For those who want the boxed set, that would be Part 4 of a continuing series, which might explain the anxiety Leach referenced. When Washington jumped ahead early with a brilliant opening drive, you could almost see the Cougars tighten up, which only made things worse.
“It’s disappointing you play this whole season, and for it to come out to this game, and us to lay a dud like we did, it sucks,’’ said running back Jamal Morrow. “But you take it and you move on and get ready for our bowl game.”
Much of the postgame questioning surrounded the poor game by Falk, but Leach defended the quarterback he has benched on two occasions this year yet stuck with for the entirety on Saturday. There was plenty of blame to go around, he said.
“The notion that Luke is the only guy that played bad is ridiculous,’’ he said. “I didn’t feel, collectively the whole game, we played well at any position. If you did, I’d be curious to know who it was, because I’d be happy to go pat that guy on the back and say, ‘Look, everyone else played like hell, but you played really good.’ But that’s really not the game I saw out there.”
The game he saw was the same one everyone else did — a game in which the Cougars looked overmatched from beginning to end.
|Cougars QB Luke Falk threw twice as many interceptions (8) as TDs (4) in his three Apple Cups:|
|2015||injured, did not play||L, 45-10|