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NCAA Football: Idaho at Washington State

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Nothing is as good, or as bad, as it feels

After a game like the win over Idaho, it’s good to think like a coach.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches have a weird job, often because of the news they must deliver. Let me give you an example.

Remember the Apple Cup last year? The one where we beat those yacht enthusiasts 40-13? Where Jayden de Laura planted the flag, and earned every Coug’s eternal appreciation?

It wasn’t actually that good.

It may have seemed perfect. But it wasn’t. Not really. Our guys made mistakes. UW had opportunities to score. We had blown assignments, and honestly, we had some luck go our way. We just did.

Feels good right? No? Now imagine having to be the one delivering it the next day in the film room? Imagine feeling exactly how you did that night, and twelve hours later having to face a room full of the people who inspired you in that way, and tell them that actually ... they kind of suck.

This is what coaches have to do.

As Coach Yarno would say to us, “Nothing is ever as good, or as bad, as it feels.” Good feels great, and great feels indomitable. Great feels like you’ve marched elephants over the alps and you cannot die.

Conversely, ‘eh’ feels bad. Bad feels terrible. And terrible? It feels like time has stopped in the worst moment of your life. Terrible feels like you have no mouth, but you must scream.

Because hyperbole is the lived reality of football. And it’s the coaches’ jobs (as the adults in the room) to remind everyone that hyperbole isn’t real.

Don’t misunderstand: Coaches experience football the same way everyone does — emotionally. But they get paid to remember what is real. Film is real. Process is real. The next snap will come, and it can fundamentally change the game. Players don’t get to live in the objective reality that fans and even coaches do; players must go make reality. They are the only ones that can.

If they’re stuck in the depths of failure, or the joys of success, they’re shaping reality to be a bit worse tomorrow than it was today. They must move forward, and coaches have to help them get there.

This is why coaches constantly rain on parades and liven up pity parties. Good ones, anyway. You never lie to the players, because unearned praise doesn’t build real confidence. Another reason coaches can’t outright lie to players about their performance is that these messages typically come in the film room, and film doesn’t lie. So neither can coaches when they’re showing it.

They can frame the pitch a bit, though. That drive had eight terrible plays, but there were three really good ones. Look at how we executed those. Plus, do you see how in six of those eight terrible plays, we were one player away from success? Shoot, we left three touchdowns on the field in those eight plays! WE’RE RIGHT THERE.

If things went poorly, and the team is, in fact, not *right there* … well … there is no rule that film sessions have to be long. Point out what good there is (and there is always *some*) and move on.

Conversely, when coming down from a high, you might not show all eight touchdowns. Or at least you probably don’t dwell on them. Instead you show the interception, or the touchdown that was missed because there wasn’t protection, or someone ran the wrong route. Because eight touchdowns one week can turn into one the next, if players don’t focus on the task at hand. Touchdowns don’t carry over. Emotions, unfortunately, often do.

So why am I talking about this, now?

Because I’m sorry Coug fans, but that Idaho game we just saw was not as bad as it felt. It was sloppy. There were effectively five turnovers (3 fumbles and 2 missed FGs). The defense inexplicably collapsed at the end, and the offense operated like it needed a few cans of WD-40 to get moving, but Coach Morris was all out.

See the forest through the trees with me. The defense was in control almost the entire game. The pass rush was great, and the secondary showed the capacity to read and react really well. In the most important moment of the game, we came away with a turnover to seal the win. This is good!

The offensive system looks dynamite. We saw all the Air Raid classics — mesh, y-cross, etc. — and we saw them get guys *open*. On top of that, we saw a rushing attack multiple times more dynamic and effective than any Mike Leach called. Nakia Watson rushed for 117 yards, Jaylen Jenkins looks good, and honestly: We bullied them in the rushing attack all night with pulling lineman and gap run plays. Plus the pass blocking looks solid, and Cam Ward found open guys and flashed arm talent despite having what I suspect is his B or C game.

Need more specifics to be convinced? Well too bad. I’m not 45 like Tom Brady, but there is still a lot of **** going on so you’ll have to just trust me, or at least coach Yarno, when I tell you it wasn’t as bad as it felt last night.

Because nothing is as bad, or as good, as it feels.

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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