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NCAA Football: Oregon at Washington State

Even in a crushing loss, WSU plays Winning Football

On healthy relationships, emotional health, and why the Cougars are going to be just fine after this one.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about healthy relationships.

Specifically, let’s talk about healthy relationships with football.

That’s almost an oxymoron. Football demands imbalance in the lives of those who love it. Shoot, even as a fan, there is football on virtually every night of the week if you want. Saturdays can be 20 hours of college football if you want them to be. (Is what Hawaii does right now football? If not amend that to 16 hours.) Then another 12 on Sunday, four on Monday, four again on Thursday, and idk ... three if you’re a high school person on Friday nights?

That’s excluding all the wonderful WACs and MACs and HACKS and THWAKS and so on that play college football whenever a TV provider has a few free hours in the evening and will pay them sufficiently. (Lets go Zips!)

That’s not healthy!

Are you ever jealous of the people picking pumpkin patches on fall weekends? Going on late-season bike rides? Waiting in lines for apple cider donuts? Attending Oktoberfest in Leavenworth? Spending time with their family? Ya know, whatever people do on fall weekends without football.

There has to be at least one Instagram story you saw this weekend that at least made you a bit nostalgic for something like that. I know there were at least a couple for me.*

*Mine involved donuts.

The first year I started coaching high school football I would spend 12-15 hours over the weekend watching film, too. Four or five grading out our guys from the Friday night game, and then 10 or so watching film of the next week’s opponent. This happened on a second screen, because — of course — there was college and pro football on as well.

It wasn’t healthy, and my wife had to have a lengthy conversation with me at the end of that season.


A decade later, I still don’t know if I’ve mastered the art of balancing football with real life. The fact that my biggest regret of spending a day on the coach this Saturday seems to be that I wasn’t eating mini apple cider donuts at a farmhouse in Skagit County, rather than join my wife and child at a park or go shopping for his Halloween costume or like … do dishes … is likely a sign that I have mastered nothing

That said, I have learned a few things about emotional health over the last decade, and let me tell you this. That WSU football game was good.

Yes, it was a real bummer of an ending. Yes, it was a disastrous ending. But we played well. The offense was dynamic: Coach Morris was cooking, Cam Ward was showing off the Air Raid arm and the Wing-T hands, and Nakia Watson and Renard Bell stayed special.

The defense, it would seem, was not cooking. But here is the thing: those LBs are special. Oregon put together an excellent game plan* that really forced our LBs to run and limited their impact across 90 yards of the field.

*Way better than anything I’ve see them scheme up against us in years.

But in those last 10, Oregon couldn’t work its magic. Normally when an offense walks to the red zone and stalls out, you blame poor execution on the offense and assume it’ll balance out eventually. I don’t believe that was the case in this matchup. I think if we played 20 quarters against Oregon, our defense would bend and bend and bend, and Oregon would consistently fail to break us.

Their play actions, motions, shifts, zone reads, boot legs and route combinations can’t hide our LBs on the 10 yard line, and our LBs would keep eating there for the rest of eternity.

In my opinion.

So, yeah, Oregon exposed some things about our defense*, but the heart and soul of our football team is good enough to compete against anyone when given the chance. That is what that game told me about our defense.

*DBs have some growing to do everyone, and our DL needs to show up consistently

More importantly, we continued to play winning football. No, we did not win. In fact, we lost in crushing fashion, and at our own hands.

But our process was good. Out attitude, culture, and accountability were evident. We are a program that clearly embraces productive conflict right now — it is evident in the product on the field — and that means we will improve.

We’re playing Winning Football on the Palouse.

We should appreciate that, even on weekends like this, because this hasn’t always been the case. Shoot, it isn’t guaranteed anywhere in the county*. While winning football can lead to heartbreak, because — cruelly — Winning Football does not mean you will always win. It does refrain from crushing your soul, because you will usually win.

*Hi Auburn!

Losing Football — and its back-to-back-to-back-to-back 50-point losses — is what affects your soul. Your love of the game. Your self-perception. I know this first hand.

So be upset. Be sad. Be frustrated.

Curse about the refs to your friends and lament our ability to cover a long ball to your significant other. Lose yourself over a beer in an annoying (though just!) rant about our insistence on calling tunnel screens as if they weren’t a gimmick play. Again*.

*Apologies to the CougCenter slack.

But then, be appreciative. The athletes, coaches, staff and students are putting their heart and soul into this — and, even better, they know what they’re doing.

We’ve got an excellent group on our hands here Coug Nation, I for one intend on being happy about it.*

*Now can someone please explain what the **** happened to our second down???


Steven Ayers played offensive line for the Washington State Cougars from 2007-2010 and is now a football coach at Squalicum High School in Bellingham.

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