Just got finished watching Washington State’s dreary 24-13 loss to Nevada, and I have to say, the Cougars are a real puzzle right now. They’re 0-2 and the prospect of another bowl game has probably shrunk to a percentage in single digits. You fill in that blank.
I asked Connor Halliday what the team mindset was now, when those around the programs surely thought it was possible, if not probable, this team would start 3-0.
“Just get a win Saturday,” he said. “Get ourselves to 1-2. Try the following week to get to 2-2. Keep battling.”
To be sure, that’s a mature outlook, but the reality is, even if you get to 1-2 against Portland State, to get to 2-2, you have to beat Oregon. And the Cougars aren’t even in the same galaxy right now. (To think there were some delusional WSU fans who believed ESPN GameDay might come to Pullman for that game . . . )
WSU has been having a devilish time when the field compresses, because, of course, it can’t run the ball consistently. Those problems showed up almost immediately last week, when a push to the Rutgers 6-yard line ended on downs because a Halliday-to-Vince Mayle pass came up a couple of feet short of the sticks.
“You have to be perfect in the red zone,” Mayle said after the Nevada loss, “and we just don’t execute.”
The Cougars had 10 penalties for 72 yards, and they were surely ill-timed ones. Twice they foiled third-quarter drives with holding penalties on linemen Eduardo Middleton and Gunnar Eklund, and a second-and-goal situation at the Nevada 2 in the second quarter resulted in a field goal after a false start flag on center Riley Sorenson.
WSU is breaking in three new starting offensive linemen, and while they’ve generally acquitted themselves fairly well, there have been some penalties and missed blocks.
As Leach says, there’s little congruent with the WSU offense right now, mostly a lot of yards without points.
The defense was better against Nevada than it had been versus Rutgers, but it allowed a couple of killer third-and-long conversions in the second half, and blew it big-time on quarterback Cody Fajardo’s 55-yard bolt up the middle in the second quarter, when the Cougars weren’t even lined up at the snap.
So . . . it’s a fine mess. You figured WSU, in the third year of the Leach system, was past the point of scoring 13 points against a Mountain West team. This was the Cougars’ lowest output since the 10 they scored against USC last year, and that was forgivable. They had single-digit points four times in the first year of the Leach regime.
If the Cougars haven’t hit bottom, they’re somewhere awfully close. They’ve played a game more than 10 other programs in the Pac-12, but this is the reality: On Sept. 5, they’re the league’s most disappointing team.