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The Monday After: Will these Cougs take hold of their shot at history?

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A Senior Day win felt great. But the next two games will be the ones that write the story of this season.

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re anything like me, the good feelings from Senior Day win have yet to wear off. There are just too many great stories in the Washington State Cougars’ 24-21 victory over the Stanford Cardinal.

It’s not just that the senior class that meant so much to the rebirth of WSU football got to walk off the Martin Stadium turf for the final time with their heads held high; it’s that they did it after displaying the resiliency that has become their hallmark over the past three seasons.

Is there anything more poetic for these guys than completing a fourth quarter comeback? And to do it with the seniors leading the way?

Daniel Ekuale was a force at the line of scrimmage, proving to be far too much for the vaunted Stanford offensive line to handle; his stats — three total tackles, 1.5 for a loss including one sack, plus one quarterback hit — don’t do his disruption justice.

Frankie Luvu authored the kind of story that even Hollywood would reject for being too unrealistic: Local boy leaves the island to travel to the mainland to chase his college dreams, doesn’t see his family for five years, they finally make the trip to watch him play football, and he seals the victory with an absurd interception. Seriously, don’t be ridiculous.

Jamal Morrow did what he does, terrorizing defenses in so many ways by picking up 66 rushing yards and 67 receiving yards on a whopping 23 touches. His backfield mate, Gerard Wicks, had just a pair of carries, including the final one where he suffered a leg injury. That’s hardly storybook, but it’s completely fitting that it happened while he fought and scrapped for the last yard that would have kept WSU from even having to give the ball back to Stanford.

And, of course, Luke Falk got to remind us all that he’s Luke Freaking Falk, and that his name is written all over the record books for a reason. I wrote on Saturday morning that Falk had a shot to go out on his own terms, and he’s off to a great start in that regard. The same could be said of all his teammates, as well.

But that’s what it is right now: A start.

Beating Stanford to close out the home season was just step one. As great as all this still feels today, it’s the next two games that will determine how we remember this season — and, by extension, the legacy of this senior class.

Will we place them alongside the great teams to ever play at WSU, mentioned in the same breath with 1997 and 2002? Will we rank them in the tier just below that, with 2003, 2001, 1992, and 1988?

Or ... will we slot them right next to the 2016 version of themselves, a team on the cusp of greatness that landed with a thud?

I presume it’s not far from the players’ minds that they were 8-2 after 10 games last season, also. At least, I really really hope that’s the case. Over the past month, these guys have followed up their good performances with performances that could be described as “horrendous” and “just merely bad,” and another stinker against Utah will more or less put any hopes for a Pac-12 championship to bed.*

*Yes, there’s a weird scenario where Stanford beats UW on Friday but loses to Cal the following week, which would mean a win in the Apple Cup — even with a loss to Utah — would give WSU the Pac-12 North, placing the Cougs atop a three-way tie at 6-3. Probably shouldn’t count on that but ... hey, go Cardinal!

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State
Which Luke Falk is going to travel to Salt Lake City?
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Truth be told, emotional wins such as what we experienced on Saturday scare the pants off me when there are still games to be played. Perhaps I shouldn’t feel that way; the same guys who played so poorly against Cal and Arizona also followed up their field-rushing USC win with a thorough domination of Oregon at Autzen — the Ducks’ only loss of the year at home. So maybe none of it means anything and we’re all idiots for trying to read the tea leaves as it relates to college students.

If they play with the same level of determination against Utah as they did against Stanford, I like their chances. And that has to start with Falk, who was very, very good on Saturday.

Outside of the normal feeling out period of the first quarter and a small stretch in the third quarter in which he threw an interception and the entire offense looked a little shook for a time, he was absolutely nails. The “steely eyed” look I wanted to see indeed returned, and confident play generally followed as he delivered strong decisive throws.

It would be a shock to me if the defense didn’t show up against the Utes — nothing about their offense resembles the only offense that has befuddled the Speed D — which means the outcome of the game likely comes down to which version of Falk surfaces in Salt Lake City.

I wish I could say I had a good feeling for which one it will be. I don’t.

But as I was on Saturday, I’m rooting like crazy for Falk to get it done. The Cougs have once again put themselves in position to cross over into territory visited by precious few players to don the crimson and gray, and I want so badly for them to grab that opportunity this time.

They’ve done the hard work. Now it’s just time to dig deep, be the most excited to play against the Utes, and the rest has a real good chance of taking care of itself.

Write that legacy, boys. You deserve to have this end the way you want.


What We Liked

NCAA Football: Stanford at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Count me among those who were very, very curious to see what WSU’s undersized defensive front would be able to do against Stanford’s oversized offensive line. I mean, I’ve had this one circled on the calendar for months as the ultimate test of Alex Grinch’s Speed D philosophy.

No problem.

The Cardinal really only had one sustained drive, and that one ended with as fluky a touchdown as there is. Bryce Love, the most explosive running back in college football, gained 52 yards on one carry and 17 yards on the other 15. The Cougs flat dominated Stanford, racking up 11 tackles for loss.

Consider: WSU spent so much time living in Stanford’s backfield that the Cardinal’s average third down distance to go was 10.3 yards. Unsurprisingly, they could convert only 25 percent of those, and therein lay the key to the game.

Is it hyperbole at this point to say that Alex Grinch has got David Shaw’s number?

It started in 2015, when the Cougs held a Stanford offense that averaged 38 points behind Christian McCaffrey to 30 points on about 300 yards of offense; the last two years, the Cardinal have averaged just 11.5 points and 250 yards.

As it turns out, it’s very difficult to block something you can’t even touch:

Incredible.

Honorable mention: We could wear these uniforms every home game and I’d be just fine. WOW. I think I’d like the helmets better on this combo with just a white logo, though.


Who Impressed

Justus Rogers has taken his lumps this season as a redshirt freshman trying to fill in for a fifth-year senior at inside linebacker. He got picked on pretty good at Cal, and his aggression was used against him by Arizona.

On Saturday, he was huge. He got his first sack and added another 1.5 tackles for loss on top. He finished third on the team in tackles with six. He was pretty darned great, and that had to feel very, very good for him.


What Needs Work

Me, last week:

Special teams certainly weren’t the reason for the loss, but they probably will be at some point. Prepare yourselves.

We were a pair of Erik Powell desperation tackles away from this being true. I’m so very sick of this and can’t quite understand why Eric Mele hasn’t yet gotten Eric Russell’d.

Probably because special teams haven’t cost us a game. Personally, I’d prefer we fire the special teams coach before he costs us a game. But that’s just me.


Up Next!

Cougs. Utes. 2:30 p.m. PT. Pac-12 Network.