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The Good, Bad and Ugly of WSU’s bowl-clinching win over Arizona State

At least half good!

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Jack Ellis/CougCenter

Good afternoon!

That’s right, Cougar faithful, for the seventh consecutive full season, your Washington State Cougars are headed to the postseason. Given where WSU sits in the revenue, resources and recruiting pecking order, that is an achievement not to be taken for granted. The best part is that we’re not done. Two games remain, and one of them is fairly winnable.

Now here’s the part where I get on team Debbie Downer. For some reason, it’s the idea of doing what it takes to make a bowl that excites me more than watching WSU play in the actual game. I know the additional practices are invaluable, and that’s become the a great benefit for the young players. What isn’t fun? Watching my team lose nearly every bowl game, as guys sit out and you never know what you’re going to get. That’s been the order of the day in this postseason run of late, but this is a new year, and we get Cougar Football into December yet again!

How did we get there? What did we like? What was less-than-optimal? Away we go.

The Good

  • Um, the first half? The first half! One thing I wanted to look at was the highlight reel to see the disparity in time. The entire file is 13:18, and the first half portion of that was about 9:40. Yowza. This game played out in remarkably similar fashion to last season’s matchup between these teams. The Cougs raced out to a 28-0 lead, then just kind of tried to sit on ASU while the clock drained. The only difference was that WSU had a couple field goal drives in Tempe, one of which took up more than six minutes. Not so much this time, but WSU did just enough to avoid flirting with disaster.
  • It’s not calculable how critical Nakia Watson is to this offense. Another 100+ yard effort, along with three touchdowns and another 42 yards receiving. He’s the offensive MVP so far this season. And while we’re here, it was great to see Jaylen Jenkins back there as well. All he did was pick up 53 yards on seven carries.
  • Robert Ferrell’s effort on one of those ill-advised pop passes may have been the greatest two-yard gain we’ll see all season.
  • Great effort by the defense in the first half. Here were Arizona State’s first half possessions: nine yards, punt; three yards, punt; 22 yards, punt; 14 yards, punt; 11 yards, interception; 15 yards, punt. That’s how a team establishes dominance.
  • A big part of that defense’s success has been the emergence of safety Jaden Hicks, who has the look of a future star. He had a tackle that prevented an explosive ASU play on its first possession.
  • Brennan Jackson is a damn freight train when he gets around the edge, almost cutting the quarterback in half. Underrated play by ASU tight end Jalin Conyers, who scooped up a moving ball with one hand and, unfortunately for us, prevented a WSU fumble recovery.
  • Outstanding Billy Riviere block on the direct snap/touchdown to Watson.
  • The receivers had a so-so day catching passes, but they were blocking the stuffing out of ASU defensive backs. Exhibit A: Lincoln Victor.
  • The offensive line was also kicking ass in the first two quarters. One play that stuck out was the backside guard and tackle pulling to spring Watson for 20 yards and a first down.
  • In the “Punters are people, too” category, Nick Haberer had a beauty in the first quarter, and ended up putting three of his six boots inside the ASU 20.
  • I’ve never flown Allegiant Air, and doubt I ever will, but that commercial about gate seat theft was pretty funny.
  • After getting continuously gashed by the bootleg passes, it was great to see Ron Stone blanket the leaking receiver, causing an incompletion.
  • That was followed up by a Chau Smith-Wade interception, which was part of a really solid day for the WSU corners. Smith-Wade and Derrick Langford took away ASU receivers for much of the day. Although, I’m still trying to figure what exactly Chau was doing when he stopped cold inside the ASU five yard line, and got absolutely belted from behind.
  • Hell of a sequence for the defensive line, after WSU took a 21-0 lead. First, Amir Mujahid stuffs Xazavian Valladay on two straight plays, then Andrew Edson absolutely ragdolls poor ASU guard Ben Bray on the way to sacking Emory Jones.
  • 3rd and 10, WSU decides No matter, as Watson shakes an ASU defender and picks up 20. If that weren’t enough, Nakia bulled right through Will Shaffer to score his third touchdown.
  • You know who doesn’t drop passes? Anderson ByGod Grover! That’s who! (Just don’t ask us about punts)
  • Once again, Daiyan Henley was everywhere. He led the team in tackles, stopped Emory Jones short of the sticks on ASU’s opening second half drive, and even made a great stop of a punt return to limit some good ASU field position. Henley played his part of a big linebacking crew effort. Those guys were great at run fits for much of the afternoon.
  • That Valladay kid is a damn stud.
  • Sam Lockett had himself a nice series in the third quarter, making a first down-saving tackle of Elijah Badger, and then knifing through several blockers to blow up a screen pass.
  • Big thanks to the ASU coaching staff for some very, uh, curious tactics in the fourth quarter. Oddly-chosen timeouts, ill-advised two-point attempts, a total lack of offensive urgency in the fourth quarter, and to top it off, complete disregard for the best offensive weapon all day (Valladay) when they got inside the 10, midway through the fourth quarter. If ASU had converted there, the molar-sucking among WSU fans would have gone up considerably.
  • Hands team!
  • Another bowl season. Always good!

The Bad

  • Nearly everything about the second half.
  • The receivers had better be good blockers, because they really struggled catching the ball. Tsion Nunnally had two straight passes hit him in the chest, and both bounced off.
  • Can we not have PATs blocked?
  • WSU’s tackling in the fourth quarter was ghastly.
  • If you are a carpenter, and you accidentally cut off a finger on your left hand, that hand would still have more fingers than WSU had second-half first downs.
  • In case you were wondering, WSU runs the Air Raid offense. But Lincoln Kennedy would like you to know that he calls it the Coug Raid. Wonder where he got that.
  • Fourth and 1 from the two yard line, Watson gashing the defense, but yeah, great time to call a pass play.
  • With WSU leading 21-0 and threatening, the play-by-play guy says, “Arizona State gets the second half kickoff. If they get a stop here, it could be a big momentum swing.” Setting aside the fact that momentum in sports doesn’t exist, that was rather funny when WSU scored right afterward.
  • Do announcers have analytics references written into their contracts whenever teams go for it on 4th down or go for 2? You don’t need to talk about analytics every damn time, guys.
  • Does it surprise anyone that the refs can’t count to 11?

The Ugly

  • Injuries. Come on already. This line is perilously thin, and Fifita (who is filling in for another guy) goes down? Super. If that weren’t enough, Robert Ferrell also got hurt on a play where an opponent’s unnecessary roughness went uncalled. And hopefully the ASU player who took a knee to the head is ok.
  • Cam Ward was outstanding in the first half, but hoo boy did he ever have a horrific series in the third. With the ball at the ASU 23 and a chance to drive a stake into the Sun Devils, Ward badly missed a wide open Riviere, then badly missed Victor, then took a 14-yard sack that knocked WSU out of field goal range. Just brutal.

Up next is a trip to the desert to face the equal parts wildly inconsistent / very explosive Arizona Wildcats, fresh off a stunning upset of the UCLA Bruins in Pasadena. We’ll get a taste for football in the Midwest, as the game kicks a little after 11 a.m. With a win, WSU clinches its fifth winning season in the last seven non-COVID years. Quite an achievement, given the seemingly constant tumult over the last few seasons.


'We won it ugly': Washington State goes up big in first half, holds off Arizona State surge to clinch postseason berth | The Spokesman-Review
The first half was stellar. The second half was sloppy. But the Washington State Cougars didn’t let a sluggish finish overshadow their fast start.

Difference makers: Washington State's Nakia Watson, Chau Smith-Wade shine in win over Arizona State | The Spokesman-Review
Watson totaled 116 yards on 20 carries, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt.

Jacob Thorpe: The Cougars under Jake Dickert have built their identity as one of the country's most resilient bunch | The Spokesman-Review
Buying into the coaches was important for the Cougars. Buying into themselves was pivotal.

Arizona State football falls to Washington State as defense crumbles
ASU, which gave up more than 500 yards in last week's loss to UCLA, surrendered 356 yards, 291 of that coming in the first half. Nakia Watson rushed for 114 yards and quarterback Cam Ward threw for another 219.


The men’s basketball team - the betting favorite on Saturday - still can’t beat a Boise State team predicted to finish fifth in the Mountain West, a conference which must be as strong as the mid-80s Big East. That’s right, some kids from Spokane and the coach’s son beat WSU by 10 points, rarely trailing in the process. Go team.

Boise State takes advantage of poor shooting night from Washington State, holds on for 71-61 win | The Spokesman-Review
“It was a battle, just like we knew it would be,” WSU coach Kyle Smith said. “We played hard, but you can’t have three assists and 15 turnovers and think you’re going to win on the road.”

This Week in Parenting

I don’t know how things go for those of you with school-aged kids in your respective district, but I’m ready to take someone in my district to court. First, there’s the text message. “We’re sending you this piece of information [that NOT ONE GODDAMN PERSON CARES ABOUT].” That’s followed by an email, which tells me the same thing that the text message told me. But no, still not enough! Next is the phone call. “Good morning parents. Please listen to this very important message...”

That message is a repeat of the email, which is a repeat of the text, which tells me something completely meaningless. It’s like that mail you get that says something like, “Urgent! Open Immediately!” You know that crap is totally unimportant. Same thing with the school. MAKE IT STOP. I PROMISE YOU WE DON’T CARE.

You may or may not have heard that it was Veteran’s Day this week. Oh who am I kidding? Everybody everywhere is jumping through their backsides to recognize it, lest they be castigated on social media. Anyway, the oldest spent much of the holiday in uniform, as his Junior ROTC gang marched in the local parade. It was possibly the best parade I’ve ever attended. His group of cadets marched by in the first five minutes, mom and I got some photos, then we went for a beer. Perfect!

We picked him up a bit later, and he told us that after the parade ended and he was standing around waiting to get on the bus, a car drove by and a lady yelled out the window, “Screw you!” I made him tell me the story multiple times because it seems beyond belief. I don’t know why, but all I could do was laugh. Like, what is the motivation there? Mrs. Kendall, on the other hand, wanted to napalm the entire town to ensure that she ended the life of the one ne’er do well. The upside is that the kiddo got a slight sense of what it was to return from Vietnam. So I guess there’s that!

Saturday brought the final game for the mighty Oreos soccer team. The results were largely the same as the rest of the season, as they once again defeated the Raptors - this time 3-0 - to finish the season 7-0-1. They were pretty excited about going unbeaten, though there was a point in the game when things got chippy among the young ones. The 11 year-old isn’t shy about bumping his gums, at one point saying to another kid, “what did you say to me?” He was immediately corrected via 1-on-1 counseling, during play. I’m sure the one-way conversation really sunk in.

Narrator: “It did not sink in.”


Apple Pie: Reflecting on the Dessert That Defined a Love Story and Loss
I am alive because of apple pie. Or so I was told. To start coping with my parents’ deaths, I needed to know more—before it was too late.