We thought -- or, more accurately, we hoped -- these kinds of games were behind us. After showing up and battling against three top-25 teams in the last three weeks, it seemed like Washington State had turned a corner. Fans were feeling good, the team was looking good and positivity took over in Cougar Nation.
Then yesterday happened. It was more than ugly. Washington State didn't even show up in Tempe. We can sit here and wonder why, search for answer and try to assess blame, but it isn't even worth it. Don't bother. Head coach Paul Wulff shouldered the blame, saying it was on him as the coach, but this game was on everyone, from the top to the bottom. Just file it away and move on.
I had a bad feeling about this game all week. Everyone was positive after three weeks of decent performances against teams that were, on paper, miles away from the Cougars. When Vince Grippi dropped a subtle hint that this could be bad early in the week, I listened. The man knows this team better than any of us. Between the injuries, the wear of the season and the possibility of a letdown after a tough stretch of games, something seemed amiss.
The Cougar secondary -- untested for much of the year because teams exploited a porous run defense -- was torched by Steven Threet. Looking like a Heisman contender, Threet threw for 300 yards in just over two quarters of work. The Sun Devils moved the ball at will and the Cougar defense could never get itself off the field.
The offense couldn't move the ball, at one point moving farther backward than forward in the fourth quarter. The ASU defensive line spent much of the day in the backfield. The offensive line didn't block and ASU took advantage. The run game? Non-existent. The Cougars were horrendous in the red zone, turning the ball over or shooting themselves in the foot all day.
In the fourth quarter, after the Cougars finally got into the red zone, holder Reid Forrest bobbled the snap and threw a desperation pass. I was listening to an ASU feed and the announcers began humming the theme to Benny Hill. It was at that point that I couldn't help but laugh at the events of the day. Early in the year, we joke about that song being the theme for this team -- and we thought it was behind us now -- but hearing another team's broadcast crew pick up on it was funny and sad at the same time.
We know it was bad, but why? How can a team that fights and hangs tough against top-ranked opponents fall so flat against a mid-level Pac-10 team? The team is tired, both physically and mentally, for one, but every team is at this point in the season. Guys are banged up everywhere and teams are forced to adjust. For a team that's struggling with a rebuilding process, the consistency just isn't there yet. It may still be coming, but these kinds of major setbacks are going to happen.
After such a terrible game, I know people are ready to let it fly. Fans feel betrayed and embarrassed by yesterday's performance and the reactions are bound to be overwhelmingly negative. Don't do it. Throw this game away and move on. There's nothing good that will come from being reactionary following such an ugly game.
Wait and see how the Cougars bounce back this week against Cal. Can they come back and put together a game against the Bears in Pullman? Do they have the mental fortitude to stand up in the face of adversity and improve? This game, not the stretch of games against Oregon, Stanford and Arizona, will tell us all we need to know about where WSU is headed.