Well, it figured that one of the weirdest weeks ever in Washington State football would be climaxed by a madcap finish. The Cougars came within an onside-kick recovery of having a shot of completely erasing a 30-point halftime deficit in their 44-36 loss to UCLA.
About an hour after it was over, after midnight, WSU wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons was standing before reporters and saying to one who’s regularly at practice: “Honestly, it’s kind of laughable. You’ve been out at every practice. If there was some abuse, I’m sure you would have seen it and everybody else would have reported about it.”
And then he said, in reference to the ongoing brouhaha around departed wide receiver Marquess Wilson: “My mom once told me, a wise man never argues with an unintelligent person, because from a distance, you can’t tell who is who.”
The night was so strange that almost pushed out of the conversation was a possible career-ending injury to quarterback Jeff Tuel, who’s been about as much of a warrior as imaginable in four years to Pullman. It appeared Tuel may have suffered another injury in the collarbone area, similar to the break that caused him to sit out virtually all of 2011. He was replaced by Connor Halliday.
The takeaway from the night was obvious. After some uncomfortable days — and a week that ended with Wilson alleging physical, emotional and verbal abuse in the program — the Cougars were seen as fragile, and there was a question about whether they’d look like they’d completely pitched the season in (and perhaps the credibility of Mike Leach as well).
Instead, the effort was good from the start. If you’d never watched the first half in person or on TV, and you’d been told UCLA had a 37-7 halftime lead, you’d assume WSU was indeed just mailing it in, but that wasn’t the case. The Cougars played with great effort, it was just that their special teams — in particular, their punt and field goal teams — were unspeakably bad, surrendering four blocks (just another thing that I’d never seen until this week).
Leach called it “the hardest I’ve seen this team play, and one of the better ones I’ve seen in my career.” On one WSU kickoff in the second half, cornerback Daniel Simmons collisioned a blocker and made the tackle on the return man himself, a truly exceptional special-teams play on a night when there wasn’t much good to be said for special teams.
So if the night was a referendum on Leach and his methods, at least the Cougars passed this test. Leach is going to have to answer to more of it, and he’s going to have to prove he’s just tough, not certifiably wacko, but the Cougars seemed to respond to his rallying cry after the events in Salt Lake City last week, and the grueling Sunday-night practice when Wilson walked out.
Asked about Wilson, Halliday said, “I miss the heck out of the guy, but I haven’t heard anything about (Wilson’s allegations). We love the guy. I came in with him, he came in in my recruiting class (of 2010). But you gotta move on. He made a decision, and you gotta move on.”
Leach wouldn’t comment on Wilson, saying, “I’m not gonna say anything about the guys that aren’t here. I coach the guys that are here.” Moments later, on his radio show, he added in reference to the big effort, “Clearly, there was addition by subtraction.”
When I began a question by prefacing with the words, “a controversial week,” Leach said, “It wasn’t controversial to me. There were a number of things the media embellished.”
At the end of a long night, I asked Simmons, the receivers coach, if he felt he had failed in any way, simply because the connection to Wilson didn’t work.
“We had a drill where we had 64 guys out there,” Simmons said, referring to the Sunday-night practice. “One guy chose to leave three minutes after the drill started. I ask you: How did I fail him? He wasn’t yelled at, he wasn’t cursed at. Now, he wasn’t chased after. But the same 65 guys you saw out there (tonight) were the same people involved in that drill.”
And so ended the day. And the night. And a pretty incredible eight days, starting with Utah.
What the Mike Leach regime really needs is stillness. Utter quiet.
I’m not counting on it.