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The Monday After: WSU beat Arizona and might be onto something special edition

Get excited, folks.

Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Doug Baldwin is a Seattle Seahawks wide receiver who was an undrafted free agent out of Stanford in 2011. He is now in his fifth year in the NFL, has made nearly $6 million, and owns a Super Bowl ring.

And tonight, he tweeted this:

If you're unfamiliar with what "pedestrian" means in this context, this'll get you caught up. "Angry Doug" Baldwin never misses a chance to remind people how much they underestimated him, both before the draft and early in his career.

Baldwin's hardly unique in this regard, as athletes do this kind of stuff all the time -- they don't have to look very far to find someone who underestimated somebody and was really wrong about it.

Like, say, how this particular author underestimated the 2015 WSU Cougars ... and is now looking to be pretty wrong after they beat Arizona on the road, 45-42.

It's well known by regular readers of the site that I was pretty down on the team (and program in general) after the mistake-filled loss to Cal left them at 2-2. My reaction was rooted in an old adage.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

The Paul Wulff era at WSU did things to all of us and our fandom. I caped so hard for Wulff, wanted so badly for it to work out -- remember, CougCenter started when Wulff was hired -- that when it didn't, I swore I wouldn't get fooled again. I promised myself that if it felt like it wasn't going right (something I knew was the case with Wulff long before I wanted to admit it), I wouldn't try and talk myself out of it again.

Of course, when you've got a megaphone as big as this website, this can lead to unfortunate circumstances such as the one I find myself in now -- thanks to what I wrote a month ago, I'm now apparently The Guy Who Wants Mike Leach Fired. Which, of course, is a pretty funny label now that the team has rattled off three consecutive conference wins ... and also is a little bit of a mischaracterization of what I wrote:

The state of the football program isn't good enough for WSU. And unless something drastic and unforeseen happens over the next eight games, Mike Leach isn't a good enough coach for WSU and it's time to figure out a way to move on. This is what schools that want to play with the big boys do, regardless of how prohibitive the financials seem, and it's time we fans start expecting more from our coaches and administrators.

And when I say "drastic and unforseen," I'm not talking about simply squeaking by to a bowl game. I'm talking about making to a bowl game while demonstrating the kind of quality football we were promised when Mike Leach was hired -- the kind of stuff that makes you believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mike Leach is the guy to lead a perennial winner. We've seen it before at WSU in both football and basketball. We know what it looks like. And it does not look like what it looks like right now, even if this team can somehow get to six wins in spite of itself.

I'd contend we're in the midst of something pretty unforeseen -- and it's awesome. I mean, as the team sat at 2-2, you could say the season was young and merited more patience, and you could say you believed in the direction, but the one thing you couldn't say is that with 1/3 of the season gone there was a lot of evidence to suggest these guys were on the cusp of winning three consecutive games, two of them on the road against the 2014 division champs with a curb stomping of Oregon State sandwiched in between.

At the time, I seriously questioned how fast the team could improve. Turns out, I was seriously wrong about that. The Cougars are getting better by leaps and bounds each week -- much faster than their opponents -- and it's incredibly fun to watch. We're starting to get "the kind of quality football we were promised when Mike Leach was hired"; this is the Air Raid we wanted, the one that Bill Moos envisioned when he talked about getting some sizzle with his steak. And this is definitely looking like a team that isn't going to simply squeak by into a bowl game.

In fact, my only disappointment today is that this growth isn't going to be front and center for the nation to see on Saturday morning. I've already said what I wanted to say about the whole GameDay mess, so I'm not going to dwell on it, but man -- it felt like this would have been the perfect confluence of recognition for Ol' Crimson, WSU and a program on the rise. It's a bummer.

Yes, I know the game will be on the Big ESPN. I also know about 5 percent of the country will still be awake when the game finishes.

Still, that shouldn't dampen our enthusiasm for what's coming on Saturday. As my friend Kyle Sherwood is fond of reminding people, it's late October and WSU is playing an incredibly relevant game. Beyond the fact that we haven't been able to say that in a long, long time, they're doing it with a team that feels like it's only just now starting to reveal of what it's capable of.

The offense is explosive. The defense has found its sea legs and is doing exactly what we all asked for -- be good enough to give the offense a chance to do what it does to win games.

There's still a half a season left, so I'll stop short of saying I've done a complete 180 on everything I said after Cal. But right now? The Cougars are fun as hell, and that's why I'm bending over backwards to get to Pullman this weekend. I want to see these guys knock off Stanford in person ... and lose my voice in the process.

What We Liked

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the season, most of our readers seemed to be a bit uneasy about the prospect of a first-time defensive coordinator. Sure, there was cautious optimism, but that was more based in blind hope/trust than anything concrete.

The defense isn't the Palouse Posse or anything, but it's really coming around as a serviceable unit. Up until the last two plays that covered 50+ yards in 15 seconds, Arizona had gained "just" 430 yards and scored "only" 28 points at a 6.4 yards per play clip. None of those numbers are great. But when your offense is putting up 45 points per game, those numbers don't have to be. They just have to be "not God awful." And that's what they've generally been.

I'm not skilled enough at recognizing scheme to know what Alex Grinch is doing with these guys that seems to be working well enough, but I do know they're playing faster and looser than they did last year under Mike Breske, and they seem to be gaining confidence by the week. There's still the occasional busted coverage (after all, those last two plays did happen), and there are still missed tackles and bad angles (Jerrard Randle did run for 105 yards on 10 carries in about a quarter and a half), but there's enough going on to be encouraged.

And like the rest of the team, Grinch is still learning.

Who Impressed

Washington State v Arizona Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

We can sometimes become a little numb to the astronomical passing numbers quarterbacks post in this offense, but what Luke Falk is doing right now is truly amazing. It's not just about the stats, although those are incredible; it's his growing command over what is resembling the offense we all admired when it was at Texas Tech.

Perhaps nothing exemplifies how good he's been than how jarring it is when he makes a few shaky throws, as he did in the second half after getting his knee twisted up. He threw four consecutive incompletions -- which were sort of all over the place -- and it felt like maybe something was seriously wrong.

On the ensuing drive -- when WSU needed a TD to put the game out of reach -- he completed all six of his passes covering 63 yards, the last of which was a 9-yard touchdown to Gabe Marks, who was impressive in his own right with a school-record 4 TD receptions.

The kid is absolutely nails, and like just about everyone else, he's getting better every week. Trust me: That scares the pants off the rest of the Pac-12.

What Needs To Improve


Up Next!

No. 8 Stanford comes to Pullman for a tilt that will determine the frontrunner for the Pac-12 North.

The Cardinal had an inauspicious start to the season with a loss to Northwestern, but they've been stellar since then, ripping off six consecutive wins ... all by double digits. Kevin Hogan has somehow become who most people consider to be the best quarterback in the conference, and Christian McCaffrey is perhaps the most dangerous all-purpose running back in the country.

The defense, however, isn't quite what it once was. It's still very good, but there will definitely be an opportunity for WSU to move the ball and score some points.

Kickoff will happen at 7:30 p.m. PT, and the game will be broadcast on ESPN.