For the last month, I’ve twisted myself into a pretzel convincing myself that the Washington State Cougars really aren’t a last place team. I’ve talked about randomness, I’ve talked about how the offense actually is really good, I’ve talked about how the defense is improving, I’ve talked about how Mike Leach will get it fixed.
Saturday’s loss to the California Golden Bears was a clear reminder that there’s a reason I’m a firm believer in Occam’s Razor. It’s time to stop overthinking this thing by rationalizing that if only a few things had gone our way in a few other games this team would have an excellent record.
Instead of falling down the Cal Bulls--- rabbit hole — which was real, on full display in new an innovative ways, and also not the reason WSU lost the game — how about we all just agree to simplify the analysis by stipulating the following:
- The defense is Wulffian and it’s not going to get better this year; and
- An otherwise excellent offense regularly neuters itself into mediocrity with errors.
At some point, as Bill Parcells used to preach, you are what your record says you are. And this, folks, is a last place team.
Think of all the stuff we’ve tried to talk ourselves into.
“Boy if we’d just recovered one or two fumbles against the UCLA Bruins, we’d probably have won!”
“Man, if we could have just stopped the Arizona State Sun Devils on 4th-and-1, we win that game!”
“Why did we play such soft defense against the Oregon Ducks in the last minute? We totally would have stopped them by blitzing!”
Saturday just confirmed what we all likely knew deep down, but just refused to acknowledge: This team is in last place because it often plays like a last place team. Any metric you want to look at will rank this defense with the worst WSU units of the last decade — and we’ve had some really, really bad ones. The offense is 11th in the conference in giveaways and 87th nationally. They’re 118th in both penalties and penalty yards per game.
If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s probably a duck, right?
If it plays like a last place team with that kind of regularity, it’s probably just actually ... a bad team that belongs in last place.
To drive the point home in one other way: The one result we don’t really ever talk about is the whipping at the hands of the Utah Utes. We file that one away as, “Oh, hey, Utah’s pretty good and we just didn’t show up.” I’ve got a better explanation: The Cougars got run over by the Utes because, well, that’s what happens to bad teams when they play the best team in the conference.
Fortunately, the program scheduled well* and the Cougars still have a chance to make a bowl game if they can somehow win two of the final three games. Last place teams typically don’t do that; however, the two home games are against teams that have also played (at times) like last place teams, so who knows. The last game WSU played against someone like that, the Cougs curb stomped them. Vegas has instilled WSU as an early double-digit favorite over the Stanford Cardinal this weekend, and even though it’s come down from 12 to 10 1⁄2, there are at least some
lunatics people who are willing to put money on the Cougs to win comfortably this weekend.
*For all you who disliked the scheduling philosophy last season because of the NY6 stuff ... well, this is why you do it!
Now, I have no idea who would do that, since we really have no clue which team is going to show up on Saturday. As Leach said after the game, they have not been consistently tough, which jives with what I’ve seen. And while some fans will lament that as an overly simplistic explanation, football really isn’t an elaborate physics equation waiting to be cracked by a genius — it often just comes down to who has the will to do what it takes to win at their job on any given play.
Fumbles, interceptions, penalties, missed tackles, blown coverages ... all reveal a lack of mental toughness — or, if you prefer, a lack of discipline. And discipline requires toughness.
These guys bounced back after Leach called out coaches and players for the same thing earlier this season, even though it still resulted in a loss to ASU. (Remember when we were hanging our hat on that one being to a ranked team? Hahahahaha! At this point, the Sun Devils also are a sniff away from last place.) Maybe something similar is in the offing this weekend against a Stanford program we’ve figured out ways to beat over the past few seasons.
But I’m not going to try and talk myself into anything more than that. I’ve done more than enough of it this season already.
What We Liked
Thank God the Seattle Sounders rescued my weekend.
That’s all I’ll say about this weekend because sections like “who impressed” and “what needs work” aren’t likely to produce a lot of constructive ideas at this point. There’s no magical scheme solution, no easy fix like HAND THE BALL TO BORGHI. They really just have to be tougher and play up to what they’re capable of. Do that, and they could win the next two and be bowl bound. That would be a massive victory for this season.
Up Next! Stanford Cardinal
Stanford has beaten the Washington Huskies (without their starting quarterback, KJ Costello) and also lost to the Colorado Buffaloes (with their starting quarterback, KJ Costello) and, well, they’re about as befuddling as our own team.
I’d give you a preview of what we’re going to face, but clearly, none of us know anything.
Kickoff for Dad’s Weekend is at 1:30 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network. At the very least, the atmosphere should be great (for a half).