The Cougs (4-2) have won more games than the Huskies (3-3) and even the Seahawks (2-4). But the road to a bowl is about to get a lot more challenging.
Washington State beat Oregon State 52-31 over the weekend to sweep the Oregon schools for the first time since 2006 and improve to 4-2 overall. The Cougars now sit at No. 3 in the Pac-12 North standings, and while the season is young, and the biggest games are still to come — Arizona, Stanford, Arizona State and UCLA await — when’s the last time things looked this rosy for the Cougars in October?
There’s no way of telling how long the Cougars’ good fortunes will last. But for the moment, WSU, at 4-2, is tied with Eastern Washington with the best record for a Division I college team in the state of Washington. The Cougs have won more games than the Huskies (3-3) and even the Seahawks (2-4). So hey, that’s cause for celebration.
Especially because the next month of the season will truly challenge Mike Leach’s team.
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WSU goes on the road against the Pac-12’s top scoring offense this week. Arizona is averaging 42.3 points and 530 total yards per game. Stopping the Wildcats will be a huge challenge for WSU’s defense, which is performed better against the pass than against the run this year, and struggled at times to contain Oregon State’s running quarterback Seth Collins.
After that, WSU welcomes Pac-12 North leader Stanford to Pullman. The Cougars have not beaten Stanford since 2007.
The next two games — against a dangerous Arizona State team that has underperformed thus far, and on the road at UCLA to take on a roster full of studs — will also be big challenges for WSU.
So, celebrate the 4-2 record now, Coug fans — the journey back to bowl eligibility is about to get a whole lot bumpier.
If WSU is to emerge from the next four games unscathed, it needs to learn to finish games. And it needs to do it now.
“I think we just need to stress consistency on offense especially and that’s what will translate to more wins,” left tackle Joe Dahl said after the victory over Oregon State.
Receiver Gabe Marks said after the game against the Beavers on Saturday that there was a discernible drop in energy level in the second half. If anything, the 45-17 score at halftime versus the 7-14 second-half performance from WSU showed that the Cougars need to learn to play with a big lead and to defend it. This is new territory for a team that’s not used to blowing out opponents.
So how does a team train itself to keep the pressure on its opponent for 60 minutes? Marks and Leach both said it all starts on the practice field.
“At practice, making sure that the whole time practice is going there’s not a lull at the end of practice because everyone knows practice is about to end. It’s just completing it all the way through,” Marks said. “And it’ll become second nature – finish all the way through. We’re getting better at that than we have been since I’ve been here.”
“We’ll just elevate the intensity at the end of our periods,” Leach said. “It’s still gotta be reinforced. I think everybody basically wants the same thing. But you know there’s a collective effort and focus that has to take place in order to accomplish it.”
Now, some links:
— For the first time this season, WSU got some votes in the Amway Coaches Poll. Five, to be exact. That means the Cougs go into this weekend’s game against Arizona ranked No. 32, while the Wildcats are ranked No. 35. Who saw that coming?
— WSU has now put together back-to-back 100-yard rushing games for the first time in the Leach era. That has contributed significantly to the Cougars’ current success.
— Here’s a quick look at some of the best players Arizona has to throw at WSU.
— The Cougs caught Oregon at a good time — without quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. They might be catching Arizona at a good time too. The Wildcats have lost so many players to injury this season that they’ve had to cobble together a starting lineup with a bunch of backups. That could most definitely work in WSU’s favor.
— The Spokesman-Review’s Jacob Thorpe says the Oregon State game might have been the best home win of the Mike Leach era at WSU. Do you agree?
— The Oregonian’s Danny Moran says Oregon State was undone by its slow start against WSU.
— ESPN.com’s Chantel Jennings says WSU’s win vs. OSU keeps the Cougars in contention for a bowl bid.
— ESPN.com’s Kevin Gemmell has the Cougs at No. 4 in his weekly Pac-12 Power Rankings.
— ESPN.com’s Kyle Bonagura now has WSU projected to play in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas on Dec. 26. The Cougars were previously predicted to be an at-large bowl selection. Some of Bonagura’s counterparts disagree, however. Mark Schabach thinks it’ll be WSU vs. BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 19, while Brett McMurphy thinks the Cougars will play Texas in the Cactus Bowl on Jan. 2, 2016 in Phoenix, Ariz.