They could've walked away, rolled over or played dead. They could've come out and not even given a damn. They could've just checked the hell out. After the week that Washington State has had -- hell, the season -- I wouldn't have been surprised to see the team roll over.
There were plenty of reasons to just play dead, take the beating and move on. The season is over, and there's no real attainable goal left -- no bowl, no big individual things, only the offseason looming as a light at the end of the tunnel. Marquess Wilson walked out the door, then torched the coaching staff and the athletic department on the way out. This whole week was about Wilson, his departure and the sudden controversy surrounding the staff. The game just seemed like a footnote, a fact magnified by Wilson's statement earlier tonight.
Add in an injury to Jeff Tuel after he moved the offense incredibly well early in the game. Or how about the special teams gaffes -- two blocked punts and two blocked field goals, one of which was returned for a touchdown? Or the 30-point halftime deficit after the first quarter started well, only to be undone by mistakes? The excuses were there. The opportunity to just sleepwalk to the finish was in front of them.
If this team has given up on its coaching staff and become so fed up that they just don't want to play anymore, it didn't show tonight. Even if they were just playing for their own pride, the effort was something we haven't seen in quite a while. The fact that the Cougars came thundering back in the second half and finished with a flurry of haymakers before coming up just short says a lot.
It says they still give a damn and still have pride in themselves, the name on the front of their jerseys and the men standing to their left and right. I don't know if they were playing for Leach or not, but something about what he's been saying seems to have taken hold. After preaching effort, imploring his team to keep their head up and asking for some fight, Leach seemed to get it on Saturday night.
There are no moral victories and nobody is happy with this season. But I'm proud of the players that laid it on the line tonight. I'm tired of the drama and crap, and this week has been draining for everyone, but seeing signs of life, of pride and of effort, is a good feeling.
Who knows if it mean anything, but actually seeing them continue to throw punches while battling until the end is something to be proud of.