And I smell my motor burnin' / Underneath the hood is smoke / Can't stop, and I can't stop / Got to keep on movin' or I'll lose my mind / Oh, rockin' down the highway / Oh, rockin' down the highway
About a month ago, I hit the road for a Washington State Cougars game for the first time in about a decade. The confluence of poor post-grad worker plus working weekends didn’t exactly make it easy to get to Pullman, let alone anywhere else the Cougs played.
So when a friend who works for Cal athletics invited me down for the game in Berkeley with the allure of free tickets, I couldn’t say no. The Cougs were 6-0, Cal’s previously excellent wins were looking worse by the week, and I managed to score a cheap flight on Southwest. I was bubbling with confidence as we landed in Oakland and our pre-game bar in Berkeley had about three Coug fans for every person with “California” embroidered across their chest.
Three plus hours after walking into Memorial Stadium, my mood was decidedly different.
I imagine the folks who traveled down to Tucson, even though other worldly Khalil Tate had been carving fools up for weeks, left with similar feelings. A loss may have been more expected but the Cougs were crushed, again, on the road.
Last week, amongst scattered snow showers that, at times, got louder cheers than the football game, the Cougs improved to 7-0 at home for the first time ever, undefeated at home for the first time in 14 years. As it turned out, those five straight home games to start the year were a boon to the Cougs, helping them get off to a fast start to allow them the wiggle room to lay turds on the road in Berkeley and Tucson.
What has the biggest difference been between the Cougs on the road and at home? The heck if I know. Maybe there’s something in the cheeseburgers on their charter flights that effects performance. But whatever the cause, outside of a strong showing against the Oregon Ducks in Eugene, road games have not been friendly to WSU this season.
If WSU wants to stay in contention for the Pac-12 North title and a bid into the conference championship, they need to find a cure for whatever ails them when they aren’t playing at Martin Stadium. Dropping a very winnable game against the Utah Utes would likely doom any hopes the Cougs have unless the Huskies manage to burp up one of their two games before the Apple Cup.
So, although every game late in the season can seem like a must-win ... this really is a must-win. Lose the game, and any hope of making it to the title game likely goes town the tubes with it.
It doesn’t help that Rice Eccles Stadium is as inhospitable environment as any in the Pac-12. That’s not to take anything away from the teams WSU has played on the road to this point, but it will certainly be their toughest test away from home to date. Thanks to the MUSS, it gets quite loud in the stadium nestled at the foot of the Wasatch.
It will all be tough to combat for a team who has had significant problems their last two trips away from Pullman. Whatever those problems are, the Cougs need to shake them off and fast. A chance to play for Pac-12 North title is likely on the line.
But I keep cruising / Can't stop, won't stop moving / It's like I got this music in my mind / Saying it's gonna be alright / Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play / And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate / Baby, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake / I shake it off, I shake it off
The road, the most important person against the Utah Utes.