By JACOB THORPE
of The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN – The Cougars didn’t seem to improve much after this past bye week. Maybe the next one will be different.
The Washington State football team’s players and coaches insist that good work was done in practice during the team’s week without a game. But that doesn’t mean much if all those gains are forgotten when there are fans in the stands and an opponent on the opposite sideline.
“I didn’t think anybody quit or anything like that,” said coach Mike Leach. “I think guys really wanted to do well, wanted to play hard but were afraid to make a mistake, afraid to react to something and commit to the play. That’s the root of the problem.”
The postgame interviews following WSU’s (4-5, 2-4) 55-21 loss to Arizona State on Thursday were a refrain of the same problems that have haunted the team throughout their current three-game losing streak. Defenders’ eyes not being in the right place, missed reads on offense, players trying to do too much and not trusting their teammates. The 12 days between games weren’t enough time to prevent any of these recurring issues from contributing to the loss.
“We’re trying to build something here. I don’t think our attitude or goals have changed,” defensive lineman Kalafitoni Pole said. “What has changed is our awareness and our focus. Being able to go out there and execute. From there we can accomplish a lot more.”
That’s not to say that the bye week didn’t serve a useful purpose. Following eight consecutive games the Cougars were exhausted in both body and mind.
“The bye couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for us,” quarterback Connor Halliday said. “We were really beat up physically, and we played eight college football games in a row. That’s going to take a toll on anybody, not only physically but mentally.”
But with another long break between games – this time 16 days – the Cougars have to do more than just rest. WSU is still two wins away from qualifying for a bowl game and only have three games left. The Cougars likely won’t be favored in any of them.
To have a shot at postseason play, the team must start translating the good work being done in practice.
The Catch-22 for the Cougars is that the very pressure of qualifying for the team’s first bowl game since 2003 may be preventing the team from playing to its potential.
“It’s too tempting for us as a team to clutter our mind with extra stuff, because all that really matters is the next play, how you line up and do your job and doing it collectively,” Leach said. “If you’re able to do that and have the discipline to do that then you’re a good team.”