PULLMAN — The state of Utah has not been kind to the Washington State football team this season.
Neither has the Cougars’ coach.
Beaten physically on the football field by Utah — and then verbally in an interview room by coach Mike Leach — the Cougars returned to Pullman searching for a way to find something to feel good about in the season’s final three games.
They’ll likely start by trying to forget Saturday’s 49-6 loss to the Utes, their second blowout defeat in the Salt Lake City area this season. On Aug. 30, Brigham Young whipped the Cougars 30-6 in Provo, meaning WSU bids adieu to the state of Utah having been outscored 79-12 by two teams with a combined record of 9-9.
“When we get off the plane, as coaches we’re going to meet and we’re going to discuss and adjust our approach and figure out what we’re going to do throughout the week,” Leach said Saturday after telling reporters that he expects “some individuals” will not be with the team next season.
There may be more embarrassment, though, in the way the Cougars were chastised after Saturday’s loss by Leach, who made headlines by parading his entire offensive and defensive lines before the media for questioning.
WSU players’ effort, pride and courage have all been challenged publicly by Leach this season. And with their seventh loss behind them and the dream of a bowl game gone, the Cougars’ main objective during their final three games will be proving to Leach — and everyone else — that they’re not what he said they were.
“We’re playing for pride now,” sophomore linebacker Logan Mayes said. “I know that’s a cliché, but you’ve got to play for something.
“There’s no lack of want-to on this team. Everyone wants to win and everyone wants to go out and put in work to do that, but sometimes you want something really bad and you don’t get it, you know? That’s just how it is. ... We’re going to find a way to get it done. Something’s got to give, you know?”
It’s been the Cougars giving for much of this season. They’ve lost six games in a row, their perplexingly bad outing against Utah might have supplanted a loss to one-win Colorado as the worst of the season.
This week’s opponent, UCLA — leaders of the Pac-12 South with a 7-2 record and 4-2 in the conference — crushed Arizona 66-10 on Saturday.
Each of WSU’s remaining opponents holds a winning record. Arizona State (5-4, 3-3) hosts the Cougars on Nov. 17, and Washington (5-4, 3-3) visits Pullman the day after Thanksgiving.
Given the Cougars’ performance Saturday, most signs point to a 2-10 season. How WSU responds will dictate whether it can avoid that distinction.
“I’m tired of losing,” freshman left tackle Gunnar Eklund said. “And we have three games left and we’ve got to worry about next week, but this is bad. Not fun at all, for me.”