Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich was asked Monday if he could come up with an identity to describe his Cougar football team.
“I think we play hard and with a togetherness and effort that shows,” Rolovich said.
Another word he could have used is resilient.
Washington State started the season 1-3 after blowing three second-half leads, but has pulled off back-to-back upsets of California and Oregon State, seemingly unaffected by the drama surrounding Rolovich and what his fate might be with the state’s Oct. 18 deadline to be vaccinated — or receive an approved exemption — nearing.
Indeed, the Cougars (3-3, 2-2 Pac-12) are coming off their best overall performance of the year in a 31-24 win over Oregon State, which entered last Saturday’s game leading the Pac-12 North.
Washington State will look to continue that momentum Saturday when it hosts Stanford (3-3, 2-2), a team that WSU has defeated four straight times.
Confidence should be high for WSU, which made big plays on offense and defense in the fourth quarter to take the lead and then hold off the Beavers in the final seconds.
“That was a heck of a game, a heck of a game,” Rolovich said. “That’s what we talked about needing. We got the (21-6) win at Cal, and that was a big game for us, but to win a game that was back and forth, the defense holding at the end and really emotional — we talked about that being a four-quarter game because of the confidence Oregon State had and the effectiveness they’ve had on multiple sides of the ball, and I think our guys were mentally prepared for it.
“I was incredibly happy for them, just to experience that and everyone who came for homecoming. That was an entertaining football game that ended the right way for the Cougs.”
Now comes the challenge of keeping the momentum against a Stanford team that has relied on the run for years, but ranks last in the Pac-12 this season in rushing yards per game (98) while ranking third in passing yards (254.2).
The Cardinal has relied on sophomore quarterback Tanner McKee in what has been an up-and-down season. Stanford beat USC 42-28 and took down then-No. 3 Oregon in overtime, 31-24. But the Cardinal was beaten badly at Arizona State last week 28-10 and lost by double digits to UCLA and Kansas State.
“They are throwing the ball more than you would think a stereotypical Stanford team would do,” Rolovich said. “They are pretty efficient at quarterback. … It is going to be a game where we expect them to throw it around.”
Rolovich said Stanford “gives you some formations and some personnels and things that cause issues in preparation.”
And the coach made it clear Monday that preparing for Saturday’s game is where his head is, declining to expand on what he had said last Saturday when he confirmed a report that he would be asking for a religious exemption to the state COVID-19 vaccination mandate.
“I answered stuff Saturday and I would like to talk about Stanford, our football team and move forward in that direction,” Rolovich said.