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WSU looks to ASU after passing big test against Stanford with flying colors

The Sun Devils present yet another opportunity.

Washington State v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

If last week’s game against the Stanford Cardinal was a “prove-it” game for Washington State, hoooooo boy did the Cougars pass that test with flying colors.

Because of that, I’m no longer inclined to look at any of the games over the final quarter of the season as any kind of referendum on the team or the coaching staff. They’ve shown us who they are, and when someone does that, I tend to believe them.

The Cougs played on Saturday as if they understood just how important the game was to their season, much as they had earlier in the year against Cal. In both games, it could have been tempting for WSU to consider the opponent beneath needing their very best effort to secure a win — something that might actually have been true. The Cougs might have eeked out wins with something less than their best.

Yet, in both games, they brought their focus and energy to secure comfortable victories.

That’s a testament to both the players and the coaching staff. Is WSU 38 points “better” than Stanford? Probably not. Certainly not in terms of talent, if you believe recruiting rankings matter. And yet while one team quite literally fumbled away any chance it had of winning the game in a stunningly undisciplined performance, WSU seized every opportunity to crush and demoralize Stanford.

The close-ups of David Shaw at halftime were both satisfying and just a little depressing — well on his way to a sixth consecutive loss to little ol’ Wazzu, the poor guy looked like he might get in his car at halftime and head home.

And it’s not like everything went the Cougs’ way in the game, either. Stud left tackle Jarrett Kingston, arguably the best player in a unit that has been (rightfully) much maligned, left the game with an ankle injury (one that we now know will keep him out the rest of the season). To that point, the offensive line had been excellent, which is something we hadn’t seen in quite some time.

To adapt, left guard Christian Hilborn kicked out to tackle, and Ma’ake Fifita came in to take his place. The last time we saw Hilborn play tackle, it was right tackle in the Sun Bowl, where he was a turnstile. Fifita, meanwhile, started the year at right tackle and got benched in favor of a freshman who is a converted defensive lineman.

My own personal emotions from my couch looked something like this:

All they would do is go on to pave the way for the best rushing performance by WSU in more than 15 years as the Cougars racked up more than 300 yards on the ground for the first time since 2006. That’s guts.

I went into the Stanford game questioning everything after that losing streak, wondering aloud if it was possible they might not even make a bowl game after a 4-1 start. And one game is not going to swing me all the way back the other direction, where I’m predicting a clean sweep of the final three.

All three of them certainly are within reach, including Saturday’s contest against Arizona State. The Sun Devils have been better since firing Herm Edwards, but they’re still not great; the composite prediction tracker thinks the Cougs are nearly two touchdowns better. And that’s before factoring in that the Sun Devils are coming to Pullman on what looks to be a frigid November afternoon in front of a packed house on Family Weekend. Traditionally, those are tough circumstances for teams from a place where it’s in the 70s this week.

I don’t know how many of these final three games they’ll win. I suspect it will end up being two. But I’m not particularly worried about it anymore. This team has earned that benefit of the doubt, and I’ll be very surprised if anything happens over the final three games to make me regret that faith.


Washington State notebook: Cougars employed deeper receiver rotation versus Stanford | Washington State University |
PULLMAN – To motivate an underperforming position group, Washington State coaches redistributed some reps.

First look: Washington State, reinvigorated and one win shy of bowl eligibility, hosts Arizona State team led by interim coach | Washington State University |
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