Effort, execution, motivation and intensity. These are all typical buzzwords one hears around any football program, or athletic program in general. They're often thrown around as mantras, and blamed when things go wrong. This was the case in the aftermath of the Washington State Cougars' loss to Oregon State.
The Cougars were flat, many said. They didn't play with passion. They didn't bring the effort. Add it all up and you come up with a blowout loss to the Beavers in a game Washington State was expected to at least compete in, with many believing it was a game the Cougars should win.
The parallels to the Cougars' loss to Arizona State last year are apparent on the surface. Last year, fans were expecting big things, only to see the Cougars roll over and play dead in the desert. It was listless, poor and disappointing at the time, leaving the same bad taste behind that the loss to Oregon State did this year.
However, I would agree with this sentiment from Vince following the Oregon State loss. Remember, Vince was the one who felt the grind of last season finally caught up to Washington State in last year's game against the Sun Devils. This time, the tone was markedly different: The Cougars didn't roll over and die, nor did they just play flat all game; they just played poorly.
As I was walking off the CenturyLink turf next to a silent linebackers coach Chris Tormey, some yahoo started yelling something I'm not going to repeat here. A couple of players were nearby but I think the vindictive comments were aimed at Tormey and the other coaches. I don't think the players were the target. And they shouldn't have been. They may not have played well, but they played with passion and energy. They left everything they had on the field, some of it knocked right from them. But they battled
There's a difference between effort and execution, and though the terms aren't mutually exclusive, effort is possible without execution. Anyone, in any job, can try their hardest, but it doesn't mean a thing if they're plugging away at the wrong task. The defense can run play with intensity and focus, but it doesn't mean a thing if players are missing keys or positioning themselves in the wrong places.
It's almost fitting that Alex Hoffman-Ellis was the one to fire back at the critics following the Cougs' loss to Oregon State. If you'll recall, this is what Hoffman-Ellis said when approached about the growing criticism of the team following the game.
"I read message boards, I know I shouldn’t but I do, and just so much of the stuff the fans say, all of them, they’re pretty much clueless," Hoffman-Ellis said. "They only know and can get what the media tells them about the program and they can interpret that anyway they want to. But, at the end of the day, what do they really know?
Hoffman-Ellis caught heat for the comments. But he shouldn't have. He was asked a question and he gave an honest answer, as he always does. It's why Hoffman-Ellis is my favorite interview and one of the most personable people on the team.
There's context that goes along with the quotes, as well. For the last four years, the Cougars have been getting their brains beat in. The losses, the blowouts and everything else galvanized those within the program. Along the way, the players and coaches took on an us against the world mentality, putting up the barriers, putting their heads down and going to work.
So why was it fitting Hoffman-Ellis was the one who fired back? He's the guy who's always laid it on the line. He takes pride in his work and plays with effort and intensity. Yet prior to this year, he's been maligned at times for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, either just out of position in the first place or running himself out of position as a play unfolds. At times, he had been a poster-boy for effort without execution.
Of course, that hasn't been the case this year. Hoffman-Ellis has continued to develop into a fine football player and leader. He's having a hell of a year, and his ability to execute has caught up with the effort he puts in each and every day.
And his maturity as a person and player shines through in this parting quote.
"There shouldn’t be any finger pointing at this point in our lives. We’re students in college now, student/athletes, and we should be mature enough to take accountability and not point the finger at anybody else. We have to look inside ourselves and ask ourselves what we could have done better."
The Cougars had a bad day at the office. Or maybe it was worse than bad. However you evaluate it, Saturday wasn't pretty, and the loss was compounded by the expectations heading into the game. Prior to the season, everyone circled Oregon State, thinking Washington State could make it two-in-a-row. Instead, the Cougars faceplanted.
But it was how Washington State responded that said more than any of the comments. Against a team that demands discipline and sound execution, the Washington State defense rose to the challenge. Oregon is a team that lives on exploiting players out of position. One player misses an assignment and the Ducks rip of a huge play.
Washington State did give up a few big plays, but also played assignment-sound football for much of the afternoon. It was an impressive turn of events one week after the Oregon State loss.
I'm not sure any of us could hazard a guess at what was different between the two weeks. Whatever the case may be, the Cougars played with effort while executing the gameplan on Saturday. And the results speak for themselves.