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The Best and Worst of the Mike Leach era, Part Two

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Let’s look at Leach vs. the Pac-12 South

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, and welcome to Part Two in a series where we look at the highs and lows of Mike Leach’s tenure at WSU. Part One took a look at the Pac-12 North, and today we head south to examine Leach’s ups and downs against the L.A., Arizona and mountain schools.

Leach has had a higher amount of success in the inter-division matchups, as the Cougs are a combined 17-11 against Pac-12 South schools, while they’ve gone just 16-19 against the North. As with last week, our foolproof methodology applies here. Let’s get to it.

Arizona (4-2)

Best – 2013: Yes, I’m going with 2013 despite the fact that the Cougs have hung 69 damn points on the Arizona Wildcats twice in a row in Pullman. The 2013 game sticks out because WSU absolutely had to have it if they were going to end the decade-long bowl drought. After WSU took a late 24-17 lead, Arizona faced fourth-and-four from the WSU 13. B.J. Denker somehow avoided every WSU defender on the field and half of the guys on the sidelines, only to complete a pass that was just out of bounds as the clock expired. Game: Cougars. My life expectancy: severely diminished.

Worst – 2017: After Luke Falk’s second straight God-awful road start, Tyler Hilinski came in and looked for a while as if he was going to bail WSU out yet again. The Cougs actually led 27-23 in the third quarter, but after falling behind 30-27, Hilinski threw a crippling interception on first-and-goal at the Arizona eight yard line. The Wildcats scored on the ensuing possession, and that was that. It certainly didn’t help that Khalil Tate was in the midst of one of the greatest hot streaks in Pac-12 history.

ASU (2-3)

Best - 2016: Tough call between the two wins in 2015 and 2016. On the one hand, 2015 began with a 14-0 deficit, continued with a very fortuitous inadvertent whistle call on a failed WSU fourth down, and ended with a Dom Williams 75-yard house call that clinched bowl eligibility for the Cougs.

On the other hand, 2016 was the game where Leach hilariously opined about Todd Graham’s penchant for stealing signals. Graham, being completely devoid of any sense of humor, called Leach’s antics “chickenshit” during the postgame handshake. It was glorious. As for the game itself, Robert Taylor provided WSU’s first kick return touchdown since the Coolidge Administration, Falk hit Gabe Marks for a 52-yard dagger touchdown in the fourth quarter and the Cougs won in Tempe for the first time since 2001.

Worst - 2013: Halloween night! Prime time on ESPN! Ranked team coming to Pullman! Classes canceled! Yeah, it was over before it started. ASU scored the game’s first 21 points, and after WSU finally got in the end zone, ASU scored another 21 in a row. Taylor Kelly threw five touchdowns, ASU rolled up over 550 yards and the Cougs were on the wrong end of a 55-21 curb-stomping. It was WSU’s third straight loss by 24 or more points, which would make their win in Tucson the next weekend all the more surprising.

Colorado (3-2)

Best - 2018: This was one frustrating game for a good while. Despite moving the ball 65 yards, the Cougs failed to score on their second drive. Colorado then busted a long run and took a 7-0 lead. That would be it for the Buffs. The WSU defense shut down Colorado the rest of the way, and the Cougars methodically pulled away enroute to a 31-7 win. Gardner Minshew II threw for 335 yards and two touchdowns despite the wind having a big impact on his passes, and Mike Leach donned a fake mustache in the postgame interview.

Still awesome!

Worst - 2012: We’re all aware of the many low points in the Leach era, but this has to be among the lowest. Sure, WSU was bad, but Colorado was really really really bad. How bad? The week before this game, they lost to Fresno State...by eight touchdowns. That loss was preceded by a home defeat to Sacramento State. WSU led 31-14 in the fourth quarter and still found a way to lose. It would be Colorado’s only win of the season, and they would lose their next seven games by 28, 34, 44, 56, 48, 24 and 35 points. 2015 Portland State and 2016 EWU both would have beaten 2012 Colorado.

Utah (4-1)

Best - 2014: This was another tough one, as 2014 and 2018 were neck-and-neck. The 2018 win carried far bigger implications, but the improbability of 2014 carried the day. Here were WSU’s first seven possessions: punt, Utah INT TD, Utah punt return TD, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt. After falling behind, on the road, in a gale-force windstorm, the Cougs stormed back, taking a 28-27 lead on a Vince Mayle 81-yard touchdown catch-and-run TD and holding on for the win. And who could forget the crushing Robert Lewis block that sprang him? Probably draws a Targeting call nowadays.

Worst - 2012: The Bud Withers special is an easy choice since it’s the only one, but this was really bad, as only a touchdown on the game’s last play prevented a 49-0 whitewashing. Jeff Tuel was sacked six times, WSU managed just 255 yards and Mike Leach inexplicably decided to humiliate the offensive linemen by making them all answer questions at the postgame press conference. I will never understand how he thought that would make them better. Guess what? It didn’t.

USC (2-2)

Best – 2017: Since the Cougs have beaten the USC Trojans twice in Leach’s four tries, this wasn’t a really tough call. You could make a case for 2013, though, largely because it pretty much came out of nowhere and it was on the road. Regardless, 2017 seems to be an easy winner. Defending Rose Bowl champ USC came in ranked 5th in the nation, sporting a 13-game winning streak and a stellar quarterback in Sam Darnold. The see-saw contest that everyone expected materialized, and after Luke Falk led a drive that Erik Powell converted into a 32-yard field goal, Jahad Woods ended USC’s hopes by strip-sacking Sam Darnold to seal the win. Fully-clothed Woodstock was on.

Worst – 2018: The worst part about the loss is the knowledge that WSU was clearly better. How often can you say that in this matchup? The Cougs let a 30-17 third quarter lead slip away, and a major source of frustration was the fact that J.T. Daniels could just throw up prayer after prayer and he’d be rewarded with either a catch or a PI flag. Equally as maddening was how the refs decided to overlook a viciously illegal Porter Gustin hit on Minshew, and USC blocked the game-tying field goal try because, as the players would admit later, they cheated. Worse still is the thought that, had WSU won, they could have just skipped the Apple Cup and flown straight to Santa Clara for the Pac-12 title game.

UCLA (2-1)

Best – 2015: Kind of funny how Leach has only faced the Bruins three times. He could face them another 25 times and 2015 might still take the cake. 18th-ranked, “Chosen” Rosen-led UCLA was 7-2 and favored by 10.5. WSU got out to a 24-16 fourth quarter lead, only to see UCLA storm back due to Josh Rosen’s…legs? Yep, Rosen ran 37 yards untouched with just 69 seconds to go, and the subsequent two-point conversion gave the Bruins a 27-24 lead. It also left Luke Falk too much time. A couple Falk runs were interspersed with completions to Gabe Marks and Dom Williams, and suddenly WSU was at the UCLA 21. I don’t need to tell you what happened next, other than to say that Jim Mora went home a loser, and the Cougs flew home 7-3.

There was also this great Leach gif.

Worst – 2012: Pretty easy call here, since it’s the only one. This game won’t be known, to Cougar fans at least, so much for the final score as the drama that preceded the game. This matchup occurred on the same day that disgruntled receiver Marquess Wilson (or, more likely, an adult close to Wilson) released a bizarre statement that accused WSU’s coaching staff of abuse. The resulting athletic department conflagration greatly overshadowed a terrible game in which WSU fell way behind, then staged a furious rally, but didn’t really come as close to getting back into the game as we wanted to think.

On the other hand, maybe it was actually one of the greatest moments of the Leach era?

Once again, let’s hear from y’all.

Coming up at some point: The best and worst non-conference / bowl games of the Mike Leach era.

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Pretty good week on the diamond for the little leaguers. The oldest drew a walk and then got drilled in the back with the bases loaded (limited amount of tears), but stayed in the game and hit a double in his last at-bat.

That last part is significant for dad. Whenever I throw him pitches, he rakes the ball all over the cage. But when he’s facing a 10 year-old, who doesn’t throw nearly as hard as I pitch to him, he sits there...and sits there...and sits there, seemingly waiting for the perfect pitch. No matter how many times I tell him the perfect pitch is never coming, nothing seems to sink in. Well, finally - finally! - he took a swing and wouldn’t you know it, got a hit. The journey to get the bat off his shoulder appears to have taken a small step. We’ll see.

He does not lack confidence on the mound, though. He came in for the final inning and closed out a tight game with two strikeouts. I’m still thinking about getting him a pair of those glasses that Rick Vaughn wore because, well, let’s just say there are some control issues.

The seven year-old has no such confidence problems at the plate. He gets in there, waves the bat around, chomps on his gum and swings away. One time he hit the ball into left and was laughing as he ran to second. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I have to figure out a way to extract some of his hot sauce and and give it to the older boy.

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