The battle of Cougars coming up Saturday afternoon at Martin Stadium has become a bit of an afterthought at WSU this week.
The firing of WSU coach Nick Rolovich — and four of his assistants — for not complying with the state mandate of being fully vaccinated for COVID-19 has taken center stage.
But the games go on, and the Brigham Young Cougars are likely not feeling too sorry for the WSU Cougars (4-3) because they have their own issues, coming off a pair of losses after starting the season ranked 5-0 and getting to No. 10 in the rankings.
Losses at home to Boise State and at Baylor have knocked BYU out of the rankings, and they desperately need to rebound in the 12:30 p.m. game.
The WSU Cougars have won their past three games, including an emotional 34-31 win over Stanford in which the players gave Rolovich a Gatorade bath after the game.
There is no doubt that Rolovich was a popular among his players, who will need to somehow overcome all the distractions of the past week. That, obviously, will be no easy task.
The job of doing that falls on Jake Dickert, the defensive coordinator who was named acting head coach, and the remaining staff.
“He knows exactly what’s at stake for this football program … and it was pretty evident really quickly that the best course of action would be to put coach Dickert into this active head coaching role,” WSU athletic director Pat Chun said Tuesday.
Said WSU president Kirk Schulz: “Every now and then we run across a person who you sort of feel has been preparing for this chance and opportunity in their career, and that is coach Dickert.”
Dickert, during his introductory news conference, said his players, “have fear, doubt and uncertainty in their minds.”
“My job is to replace that with faith, trust and belief,” he said. “… If we can stick to those three cornerstones, faith, trust and belief, I believe there is something special here in this football program that we can continue to finish with all our goals still in front of us.”
WSU certainly has positioned itself to meet its goals with the three straight wins. With a Pac-12 record of 3-2, the Cougars are just a game behind Pac-12 North leaders Oregon and Oregon State.
“From an X’s and O’s standpoint, we’re going to give our guys an opportunity to do what they do best,” said Dickert, who said he will continue to run the defense. “Offensively, I believe we are one of the most explosive offenses out there, and they are playing with great confidence. Defensively, our staple is playing hard, playing fast and playing together. I think those are the principles we will rely on come Saturday (against BYU).”
From a psychological standpoint, Dickert understands the players are hurting, but he has a message for them.
“When they put that helmet on … and they are in Martin Stadium that they remember why they love this game, why they love each other and why they are all here, and the opportunity that is afforded to them going forward that they have built, not me,” Dickert said.