Good evening. Well, make that great evening. I’m speaking, of course, of Saturday on the Palouse, when your Washington State Cougars defeated the Wisconsin Badgers 31-22 on the most picturesque of days. Everything was great. The weather, the atmosphere, the mini-CougCenter reunion at The Coug where I got confirmation that Zane Murfitt exists outside the internet. (he and Emma brought awesome friendship bracelets!) I even got to meet ace photog Ashley Davis.
After that, nephew Tyson and I trekked to Ferdinand’s where I got my first waffle cone from that wonderful creamery in many years (Apple Cup Crisp ftw). It was all setting up to be a magnificent day. All that remained was that little matter of winning a football game. Easy, right?
Disclaimer: This won’t be the traditional G/B/U - sorry to the none of you who care - because your resident codger/blogger was out later than normal on Saturday, and hasn’t had a chance to watch a recording, which will almost certainly take place on Tuesday when we’re back in the Florida steam bath. Instead, I’ll try and recall some thoughts and events during the game.
Where to start?
(You already did, dumbdass!)
Man, did we ever need that. All the talk about WSU’s future had reached a cacophony, with WSU and Oregon State filing suit against their own conference, credibly alleging that the schools leaving for other pastures were threatening to decide the future of a conference they’ve voluntarily left. As if we hadn’t waded through enough turmoil over the last couple months, here came another distraction, and with it, necessary access to millions of dollars needed to fund the department for the next couple years. Fun times!
Against that backdrop came actual football, WSU vs. 19th-ranked Wisconsin, only the biggest non-conference game in the history of Martin Stadium. It began well, and it ended spectacularly, but hoo boy were there some anxious moments in-between. So here goes:
- First national ABC audience for a Pullman game in nearly 20 years. WSU showed out rather well, IMO.
- Jake Dickert and this staff had these guys ready to go. I’m so impressed by what they’ve done so far.
- LOL ABC joining the game late, even for the local audience. What a joke these networks are. But thankfully they made up for it by taking several 3+ minute commercial breaks.
- WSU took the lead with 5:28 remaining in the first quarter, on a beautifully-designed play that got receiver Kyle Williams wide open for the score. WSU would never relinquish that lead, which I probably wouldn’t have believed if you gave me the best case scenario before the game. But yowza, were there some moments when it seemed like the Cougs were determined to fall behind. Still, leading a top-20 team for nearly 55 minutes? Pretty damn good!
- Awesome crowd for much of the night. The place was electric. Is it a coincidence that the mass halftime exodus impacted the awful play in the third quarter? Probably. But there was a pretty interesting correlation there!
- Lincoln, buddy, you’re allowed to down the kickoff.
- Hell of a throw though!
- I don’t know what it is (probably overwhelmingly script-related) but WSU’s play-calling and offensive rhythm often look exceptional to start games.
- Loved the decision to go for it early. I absolutely hated the decision to punt late in the third quarter, when WSU badly needed to keep possession after Wisconsin had closed the gap to eight points, and WSU had gone 3-and-out on its previous two drives. The Cougs had 4th-and-4 from the Wisconsin 43, needing a score for some breathing room, and to put a couple years back on its fans’ lives. Instead, WSU turtled up and punted. The ball went into the endzone, and Wisconsin went 80 yards in five plays to pull within two points. DID NOT LIKE!
- I don’t know what the coaches and players gotta do to shore up the issues near their own goal line, but mercy, something has to change, because WSU flirted with disaster multiple times.
- The pass protection seemed pretty good early. Not so much as the game progressed. The run blocking was really bad for most of the game, but pretty damn good late! To wit: When WSU got the ball back with a 31-22 lead, needing to kill the final 3:34, it ran the ball six straight times, picking up first downs on 3rd-and-7 (Watson for nine yards) and 3rd-and-4 (Watson for six yards). So basically, the only time Wisconsin knew WSU wanted to run was the only time WSU had success with planned run calls. Sports!
- Ron Stone, Jr.: Savior. While the pass rush didn’t get home much on Saturday, Stone forced two fumbles, one of which WSU converted directly into a Brennan Jackson touchdown. Turned out we really needed that one.
- Pretty funny timing on the interview with Pat Chun as the Cougs were scoring that defensive TD and Chun started cheering.
- Man, Jaden Hicks is such an impact player. Forced a fumble, absolutely - and legally! - de-cleated Wisconsin receiver Will Pauling, and consistently flew in like a missile to for run support.
- Sam Lockett may be on the struggle bus in coverage, but he also did a heck of a job near the line of scrimmage.
- The drawback to the great play near the line, of course, was the Badgers hitting on several explosive passes, including two that went for more than 40 yards.
- What a perfectly placed deep ball from Ward to Williams on that first touchdown drive.
- The Cougar defense sure bent in that first half, but it didn’t break. on three seperate possessions, Wisconsin had first downs at the WSU 25, the WSU 16, and the WSU 13. All three of those ended with field goals.
- Despite the aforementioned explosives, I thought the WSU corners, particularly Chau Smith-Wade and Javan Robinson, covered pretty well on several Wisconsin deep pass attempts.
- Kyle Thornton and Devin Richardson were damn good, especially in the screen game.
- The Mike Leach tributes were pretty great. Well, I think they were. The speaker system in that stadium needs an overhaul.
- I’m not necessarily upset about it, matter of fact, I’m thankful for it - Wisconsin has two thoroughbreds at running back, and seems to view them as afterthoughts. For the second year in a row, WSU totally stymied any semblance of a Wisconsin rushing attack, and Wisconsin seemed determined to run only sparingly. If you’re an old like me, watching Wisconsin as a pass-first team is baffling.
- One more kudo to the defense (and the crowd who came back): After Wisconsin scored on consecutive possessions to force WSU butts to clench throughout the land, the next three Badger possessions were punt, fumble lost, turnover on downs. Meanwhile, the crowd noise grew noticeably. Hell of a way to respond after nearly letting things get away.
- My god, that Lincoln Victor third down catch on WSU’s final scoring drive. Just incredible.
- One last bullet point - I’ve seen more than a smattering of Wisconsin fans complaining about the officiating impact on the game. To that I say:
Ok, maybe that’s a little too harsh. Instead,
Seriously, though. I’m still waiting for a flag, any flag, for one of the multiple times Wisconsin tackles held WSU defensive ends. Oh, and I lost count of the times Wisconsin receivers blatantly pushed off WSU defensive backs, including on Wisconsin’s last gasp deep ball that fell incomplete with 3:34 left. Then there was the Lincoln Victor pass to Cooper Mathers that was ruled down even though Mathers was on top of the defender before rolling into the endzone. The play wasn’t even reviewed. As for the final turnover of the game, the officials ruled it a fumble on the field, and there was zero evidence that it was not a fumble. Additionally, that play where Cam Ward was given forward progress out of the endzone was correctly called. Shut up and
Oh, and then there’s the part where WSU had a first down taken away because of some nonsensical “helping the runner” flag. Now, I’ve watched thousands of hours of football, and I’ve seen some blatant displays of “helping the runner.” Not a one was flagged. But this time, with WSU desperately needing a first down while clinging to a two-point lead, we decide to call that penalty? Really? And the Wisconsin fans are the ones bitching about the refs? Gtfo with all that. Thankfully, WSU provided a “ball don’t lie” moment on the next play. Hey Badger fan, load the “L” onto the plane and head on back while missing me with your ref complaints.
And then, after some outstanding clock-killing, it was over. Yours truly, despite all of 47+ years on this planet, stormed the field. I regret nothing. I took along my niece and nephew, and we had quite a time of it.
First up, selfie!
Next, the defensive star of the evening, featuring a young lady who...I’m not really sure what she’s doing but she may have thought there was a Nerf gun nearby.
And now, QB1, brought to you by Mr. Ward’s girlfriend!
And finally, the head man!
Once we left the field, it was time to walk down the hill to Sella’s, where I caught up with an old friend and fellow WSU grad over calzones. After that, it was time for this old man to pretend he was young for a couple hours, so I headed to Valhalla to meet up with fellow CougCenterers Emma, Preston and his wife Sammi, Craig and Ashley.
My review of Valhalla: It’s really loud in there!
Oh, and I also met our other outstanding pictoral artist, Jack Ellis! I didn’t get to talk with Jack much, unfortunately, but I can avow that he has some magnificent hair. Shortly after, the young’uns decamped to a place where the olds are less prevalent.
So Craig, Craig’s friend and I headed to the only place we could, The Coug. Craig sauntered to the bar and asked me to secure a table. I think there was an agenda at play, because Craig came to the table with a Smirnoff Ice and placed it in front of me. Confusion gave way to despair, as I knew there was only one way out of this, right up the middle.
According to Craig’s stopwatch, I clocked in at four seconds, which he said was good. I’ll take his word for it! After a good while of actual conversation (it’s funny what can happen when you can actually hear other people without anyone having to scream), it was time for this old man to hit the pillow.
It has definitely been too long. And here’s the part where I tell you that the last time Craig and I hung out was the last WSU game I attended - 2018 against Oregon. The game before that? 2017 against USC. What I’m saying is that if you want WSU to win a big game, you want me to be there. Sponsorships are available!
For real, though, I can’t adequately put into words how incredible this day was. On a postcard, chamber of commerce day, with nearly everything on the outside against us, amid a seemingly unending spate of bad news off the field, the Cougs came together and put on a show for the entire nation. I mean, my wife’s friend in Cleveland texted me to ask if I was watching! You’re damn right I was.
Finally, something decidedly nonprofound and largely forgettable, but I think kind of fitting.
When I lived in Europe, my family had an opportunity to travel a fair bit.
WE KNOW! YOU WOULDN’T EVER STOP TALKING ABOUT IT FOR FOUR GODDAMN YEARS.
Well that was sudden.
Anyway, my philosophy when we went anywhere was to do, see, eat (and drink! possibly!) as much as we could. Kind of a “Let’s do it all, because we may never come this way again” strategy. So that’s why I decided months ago that I had to be here. It’s why I left my family and flew up here on my own (my 11 year-old will never forgive me, but suck it buddy, you’ve got school). It’s why I made it a point to meet up with as many of my friends as possible (it was really hot The Coug! Can someone open a window?!) throughout Saturday, and then meet the family for some pregame tailgating in the Cougar Den. It’s why It’s why I shelled out what I deem to be a significant amount of money to spend six hours in a hotel. It’s why I stayed out with Craig and friends until this old man’s bones couldn’t take it any more.
This place, these people and this school mean so much to me. This was the weekend to come back, because nobody knows what the future holds for the school and sports teams we love so much. We all had to be here to hug, laugh, cheer and celebrate on the field together. We may never come this way again, so this weekend was a hell of a way to savor what was and is, regardless of what may lie ahead. And in the end, we did it. We came home. We were underdogs. We won. We needed it, and we got it. Go Fucking Cougs.
I’m sure there are lots of links. It’s after 9 p.m. and I’m too tired and lazy to post them. If you don’t know where to find the written words by now, I can’t help you. But I will post some video. First, highlights!
This is art.
Congrats @WSUCougarFB & @CoachDickert on 2-0 with win over the Badgers.— Pat Chun (@pat_chun) September 10, 2023
Special night in Pullman. #WSU once again reminded the country exactly what it means to be a Coug!
… and pure joy in our locker room!
Cougs vs. Everybody #GoCougs pic.twitter.com/QCA1UJzUxA
Jake Dickert after WSU’s win over No. 19 Wisconsin: “We belong in a Power Five.” pic.twitter.com/laDjoJv7Mt— Seattle Times Sports (@SeaTimesSports) September 10, 2023
I don’t think it’s a secret that Broadway Joe is a fan of Cougars. ONE OF US. ONE OF US. ONE OF US.
I love u Joe Namath pic.twitter.com/awmcBYTCkF— Washington State Football (@WSUCougarFB) September 10, 2023
Meanwhile, Washington State just took down No. 19 Wisconsin in Pullman.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) September 10, 2023
Like I said last week, get Apple back on the line.
WE’RE RANKED! AND THIS IS THE COOLEST WAY TO SHOW IT!
Updated AP #Top25 helmet graphic. Miami, WSU and UCLA and Iowa move in at the expense of Tulane, Texas A&M, Clemson and Wisconsin. Do you agree with the voters' choices?@APtop25 #CFB2023 @CFBHome @ESPNCFB @FB_Helmet_Guy pic.twitter.com/n0LcTZwQyj— Gus (@SportsPSD) September 10, 2023
This Week in Parenting
I will have you know that two different people told me this weekend that they enjoy this segment of my weekly ramblings on life in the parental trenches. I consider that to be a unanimous ruling, so by god I’m gonna keep doing it!
As I mentioned, I may come home to an empty bedroom where the 11 year-old used to be, because he was pretty pissed off that he couldn’t come along. I’m sure the pictures of his cousins on the field will help things.
Before I left, we were driving home from one of his eleventy billions of sports practices when my phone played The Ataris cover of Don Henley’s Boys of Summer. I don’t know if there are any all time cover power rankings, but this one should be near the top. The 11 year-old said “I don’t like this song, play something else.” I did not play something else. Before I knew it, he was singing along.
“I thought you didn’t like this song.”
“I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know the words.”
It was a fair point, but he’s still in wrong for not liking the tune. Shortly afterward, Gordon Lightfoot’s Sundown came on, and he was much more amenable, asking me to turn it up. He also said that he liked that other Lightfoot song, which I figured out was The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Damn near brought tear to the old man’s eye.
Later in the week, the 11 year-old was hell bent to have a family fantasy league. He set the draft for 2 p.m. on Sunday. By the time we got unique logins and figured everything out, the draft started at like 3:45. Mrs. Kendall may or may not have drafted Ryan Tannehill with her first pick, drawing a round of derision and laughter. At some point, the teenager announced that he had to sit on the toilet, but we realized that we couldn’t pause the draft. So yes, my son was dropping a deuce while drafting players for his fantasy team, letting us know in real time the color of his production. You want an unvarnished look at family life? You goddamn got it.
Finally, the mighty Dolphins JV suffered another setback this week, going on the road and losing 16-6. It was a tight game that could have gone either way, but we went scoreless on possessions that saw 1st-and-goal from the three, and first-and-goal from the 10. The kiddo didn’t get back home until after 10. On a Tuesday night. Seems like we can do better, school system. The most unintentionally humorous part came when the opponent took back a pick six while our cheer squad was going through a rendition of, “Keep it up, Dolphins! Keep it up!” #Awkward
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