Cougs finish miserable year just as it began

THE PRATFALL that was Washington State's 2014 football season finished just as it began: with mistakes galore and a loss. Washington's 31-13 Apple Cup victory on a chilly Saturday night in Pullman sends the Cougars into the offseason with a 3-9 record. It's a mark that will hang heavy given the lofty expectations for the season created by head coach Mike Leach and athletic director Bill Moos.

Leach said before the season began that this was the best of his three WSU teams, and Moos had stated repeatedly that Year Three of the Leach Era would be the turning point for a program that hasn't posted a winning record since 2003.

Instead, 2014 was a trip back to the future. The Cougars won three games -- the same trifecta they hit in Leach's first season at WSU and one less than Paul Wulff had in his fourth and final year on the Palouse.

The first half Saturday against the Huskies was a metaphor on a season gone awry. While the Cougs played tough, three mistakes sealed their fate.


First, Husky running back Dwayne Washington turned what looked like a 7- or 8-yard gain into an unmolested, 51-yard sprint to paydirt before the game was even three minutes old.

Then WSU receiver Dom Williams dropped what would have been a game-tying TD in the corner of the end zone on a fourth-down pass from Luke Falk. It was one of three times the Cougars moved deep into UW territory in the half only to come away empty on failed fourth-down plays.

And third, with the first half winding down, Cougar receiver Vince Mayle fumbled after catching a Falk pass and the Huskies recovered at the Cougar 27. Five plays later, the score was 14-0 and an amped-up Cougar crowd at the coldest Apple Cup of all time was suddenly debating whether to watch the second half somewhere warmer.

Instead of being tied at 7 at intermission, the Cougars were down by two TDs, and preparing to kick off to the Huskies to start the second half. Dwayne Washington's 60-yard romp 45 seconds into that second stanza pretty much ended any suspense that remained in the 107th renewal of the rivalry.

A drop, a critical turnover, and two explosion plays had effectively ended the game after less than 31 minutes.

The Cougars were 21 points down yet they were playing well enough, for much of the going anyway, to be right in it. But they weren't.

Their 3-9 season record sizes up similarly. A muffed punt turned victory to defeat against Rutgers and a missed chip-shot field goal did the same vs. Cal. Special teams miscues also spelled doom in close losses to Nevada and Oregon, and helped put others out of reach.

It's not inconceivable to think the Cougs could have entered this game bowl eligible.

That's all woulda, coulda and shoulda.

What's reality is a 3-9 record.

What's reality is losing to Stanford, Arizona, USC and Arizona State by an average of 22 points, and turning in some of the sorriest special teams play in conference history.

What's reality, more than anything, is not meeting self-created expectations. A 3-9 season is not unheard of but when it's married to the promise of brighter days it is a recipe for major hang-wringing among the faithful.

The psyche of the Cougar Nation needed -- and received -- the offing of a head following the Cal loss. Will that dismissal of special teams coach Eric Russell be enough to satiate the body politic during a long offseason?

Not likely, it would seem, particularly after getting punked at home by the rival.

With the not-so-subtle shade thrown his way by Leach a week ago in his presser after the ASU loss, defensive coordinator Mike Breske's time in Pullman could quickly be coming to a close.

The athletes Mike Leach has brought, and is bringing, to Pullman are better than the ones recruited by his predecessors, people close to the program will tell you. And there's tangible proof to it -- these kids have more Pac-12 scholarship offers than their predecessors' players. And these players are young, which is an undeniable fact.

But the bald-faced reality is that a so-so Husky team is headed to its fifth-straight bowl game and the Cougars are staying home for the 10th time in 11 years. In Year Three of the Leach Era the Cougs posted one less win than they did the year Paul Wulff was fired.

Bill Moos will insist that progress is being made. And in many ways it is. But the mistakes that have so long dogged the Cougars don't seem to be going away and the 107th Apple Cup drove home the point in ugly fashion.

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