Coming off a close loss to a highly ranked team, Washington State will be heading to Salt Lake City and look to earn a much needed win against the Utah Utes.
Sound familiar? The same situation occurred two years back, in 2012. In Mike Leach's first season the Cougars were 2-8 and coming off of a close loss to a Stanford team that would end the season ranked #8 overall and win the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. The Cougars had been struggling up to that point, but surely that game marked the turning point. Here's what Craig Powers wrote in the aftermath of that heartbreaker:
There are certainly some positives to take away from this game. WSU took a Top-25 team to the brink on the road. The defense is improving. The offense is starting to come around. Hopefully those strides will translate to victories down the stretch.
The next Saturday in Utah is when things really started to fall apart for Leach and the Cougars. The team barely showed up and fell to the Utes 46-6. Mike Leach went off on his team and said that there was a "zombie convention on the field" and called his team's effort pitiful on every side of the ball.
"Our five couldn’t whip their two, which means if five of our guys went in an alley and got in a fight with two of theirs, we would have gotten massacred," Leach said. "That’s just ridiculously inexcusable. It was one of the most heartless efforts up front I’ve seen; and our defensive line wasn’t any better."
Leach sent his entire defensive and offensive lines out to face the media, a move that was perceived as a way to embarrass his players and sent Travis Long out of the room, in the middle of the session, in tears. You can see all the postgame videos in Mark's article here. The perception of the coach's action sent the public image of Leach and WSU spiraling. Just read some of the comments in Mark's article and what Mark himself had to say on the matter.
For a coaching staff which keeps everything, including injuries, so close to the vest, it felt odd to try to punish those units in such a public manner. Maybe I feel that way just because I feel terrible for Travis Long. Long has started every game in his career, has always played hard and all he has to show for it is a 9-36 career record. Travis Long should get a sixth year of eligibility on a hardship waiver for being forced to play on such terrible teams.
During the next practice, star wide receiver Marquess Wilson walked off the field. WSU said he was suspended, but a week later, shortly before the Cougars took the field against UCLA, Wilson released a letter saying he quit the team because of "abuse" from the coaches.
My teammates and I were aspiring to be the winning team you deserve. Unfortunately for all, the new coaching staff has destroyed that endeavor. I believe coaches have a chance to mold players, to shape men, to create greatness. However, the new regime of coaches has preferred to belittle, intimidate and humiliate us. This approach has obviously not been successful, and has put a dark shadow on this program.
The road trip to Utah in 2012 was a black mark on Cougar football and Coach Leach and signaled rock bottom for a season many people came into with all the hope in the world. That sounds all too familiar...
Craig ended his 2012 Utah postgame article with this point that could very easily be relevant come tomorrow night:
I'm angry. Not that the Cougs faceplanted. I'm mostly angry about last week, when WSU took a top-25 team to the brink on the road. If they wouldn't have done that, I probably wouldn't have cared at all about this game. Stupid game against Stanford. If you are going to suck, WSU football, just suck consistently, please. Ranging between different levels of suck makes it hard on your fans.
Oh boy... While it would save us some time here on CougCenter to be able almost republish that entire article, I think all of us would really, really, really prefer to take a drastically different tone this Saturday night around 9 PM.
Cougars try some new looks on defense - SportsLink - Spokesman.com - Sept. 23, 2014
Ivan McLennan had a good game against Oregon on Saturday, collecting 1.5 sacks and forcing a fumble to go along with five total tackles. However, starting Buck linebacker Kache Palacio played well too, sacking UO quarterback Marcus Mariota twice.
Eklund ready to eradicate memories - Spokesman.com - Sept. 23, 2014
PULLMAN – For the dwindling number of Washington State football players old enough to remember the last trip, Saturday’s return to Rice-Eccles Stadium is a reminder of likely the lowest point in their careers. A 49-6 loss to a 3-5 Utah team was bad enough, but it is the game’s aftermath that lingers
Utah stays focused to avoid falling into 'trap' posed by Washington State - The Daily Utah Chronicle
Trap game. These two words have ruined many a college football season and have crushed the dreams of millions of players hoping to call themselves conference or national champions. For the Utes, the next step in their comeback season is to not fall victim to the dreaded trap game.
10 things to know about Utah Vs. Washington State | KSL.com
Conference play begins this week for the Utes as they prepare to face Washington State at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday. The Utes have not fared well in conference openers since joining the Pac-12, dropping all three contests.
Pac-12 Football: Washington State Cougars at Utah Utes 2014 Preview - Pac-12 Blog - The Pacific-12 Conference
Washington State travels to Utah for a Pac-12 conference game against the Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.