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WSU vs. UCLA: The Cougars are the scariest team in the Pac-12

Nobody wants to play Washington State, and that's a new feeling. The Cougars are taking on the mentality of their coaching staff, and are dangerous until the clock hits zeroes.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

You should get used to this feeling. If you weren't yet, it's time. It's probably past time, in fact, to feel just fine when Washington State is in striking distance late. I'd go so far as to say you should feel pretty good about anything near a one score game in the fourth quarter.

Washington State is not a scrappy underdog. It's the middle of November and the Cougs are not the spoiler whose only measure of success is ruining someone else's record. All they are is the scariest team to play in the Pac-12 right now, and quietly they have been for a month.

When the Cougar defense took the field needing to keep UCLA out of the end zone late in the fourth, I felt fine. When Josh Rosen broke loose and scored a touchdown to put the Bruins up, my first thought was "Got the ball and got time to end this." Even had a bit of a smile watching UCLA celebrate on the field like it won a national championship after converting the two-point conversation.

Luke Falk has four fourth quarter comeback wins this year, and five in his 13 games as a starter. He, and the offense, have shown time and again that if they have about a minute and the ball, they can do some serious damage. When the ball left Falk's hand and ended up in Gabe Marks' with a little over three seconds to go, there was no doubt it was over. As Marks fell to the turf, ball in hand for a 31-27 win, it felt like everything came together.

You are seeing, as Marks pointed out, a team taking on the attitude of its coach. Did someone get hurt? Next man up. Gave up a touchdown? Score two more on them. There's a minute left? We can get a couple scores in before it hits zeroes.

Against UCLA, the Washington State offense was missing its left tackle (the team's best offensive lineman) and River Cracraft, Falk's safety valve of a receiver with the most reliable hands on the team. They endured UCLA laying borderline hit after borderline hit. When Falk was in the locker room being tested for a concussion, Peyton Bender stepped in, struggle for a little bit, then threw an absolutely gorgeous fade to Dom Williams for a massive touchdown.

This means that when you're up five and driving while chewing clock, the quarterback is going to take a kill shot. Falk might've read man and not realized the safety was going to come over the top and beat everyone to the spot, but that happens. The defense will go back out, try to get a stop, and you'll get another shot. That's Leach in a game- and season-defining sequence.

This also means you have to take the bad: The general aloofness at times; the sometimes sketchy play clock management; the mistake that seems back-breaking at the time but is just a side effect of mixing chemicals together to see what happens (sometimes they blow up your lab). But when Leach's teams are mentally there, and really firing, they play pedal to the floor for 60 minutes football, occasionally suffering a self-inflicted wound because when you take that many shots it's bound to happen.

We can also say this again, because it bears repeating: This Washington State team will not roll over. You can throw them around, give them a forearm shiver to the head, and try to literally knock them out. Given the opportunity to fold this season, whether after a bad season-opening loss or on a game-by-game basis, the Cougars have stood back up, swung back, and dared their opponent to do something about it.

Every single player, offensively and defensively, took shots from UCLA for 60 minutes. None of them got down, and none of them let up. The defense held UCLA to field goals instead of touchdowns, and the offense finished drives with authority. The Cougars weren't just happy to be on the field with UCLA in what was a home game for a good chunk of the roster. They expected to come out and bury the Bruins, and did things went according to plan once again.

Washington State is 7-3 on the season, losing those three games by a combined 15 points, and 5-2 in the Pac-12. The Cougars were assured of a bowl in November and have locked up a winning regular season and Pac-12 record for the first time since 2003 with two games to go. They've played the most fun brand of football we've seen in years, maybe all the way back to 2003, while surprising the hell out of everyone.

It's not a surprise anymore, though. You, as Washington State fans, are rooting for the scariest team in the conference, and maybe one of the scariest teams in the country. They're not underdogs anymore. They're that good.