Fixing slow starts is a top priority in 2015

PULLMAN – Memo to Washington State football coaches: Next season, have the team managers fill the water jugs with Gatorade, not Sominex. While you’re at it, work on spicing up those locker-room pep talks. The 2014 Cougars were a team fraught with weaknesses, but one of the most glaring was a tendency to start slower than a teenager getting out of bed in the morning.

Washington State was outscored 107-55 in first quarters and 116-65 in third quarters. In Saturday night’s frigid Apple Cup, the Cougars gave up touchdown runs of 50-plus yards on Washington’s second play from scrimmage in each half.

Make no mistake: The Washington Huskies were better than the Cougars on Saturday. The Huskies had more experienced players; they had more star players; they had more impact players on defense; and they had more talented players on special teams. The 31-13 final score flattered the Cougars, since they trailed 31-0 before scoring twice in the final 10 minutes.

The Huskies aren’t sensational by any means. They’re 0-5 against Football Bowl Subdivision rivals that currently have winning records; they barely beat Football Championship Subdivision power Eastern Washington; and they had to defeat WSU to avoid matching the Cougars’ conference record.

And yet, Washington’s 8-5 overall record and 4-5 conference record easily tops Washington State’s 3-9 and 2-7 marks. The Huskies finished third in the Pacific-12 Conference’s North Division; the Cougars tied Oregon State for last place.

The Huskies are headed for a bowl game, and the Cougars are staying home for the holidays. Again. Once they’re home, Washington State players must take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves: Were we really that bad? The coaches could do the same.

There is considerable evidence to indicate that both parties were at fault. The Cougars rank among the nation’s worst in a number of statistical categories, and that cannot be accomplished without a goodly number of not-so-Pac-12 players. But the long, ugly list of long, ugly plays yielded on defense and special teams must be blamed in part on poor work by coaches. And offensively, it wouldn’t hurt to mix in a running play or 10 to keep opposing defenses honest.

More than a few of the young players force-fed into WSU’s lineup provide hope for a brighter future, and recruiting is going well, it appears. The Cougar Football Complex promises to attract and develop bigger and better Cougars for years to come. Martin Stadium and the game-day experience – outside of the actual games of 2014 -- have never been better.

That said, nothing begets success more than success, and the Cougars did themselves no favors by failing to produce a winning season for the 11th consecutive season. WSU fans were surprisingly resilient. Saturday’s game marked the season’s third sellout, even though temperatures were in the teens and many students remained out of town during the Thanksgiving break. The vast majority of seats were filled in the first half, but the lure of a warm building and cold beverage coupled with a first half of missed opportunities aplenty lured thousands of fans out of the stands in the second half.

How many of those fans will keep heeding Bill Moos’ plea to give up their Saturdays, or weekends as the case may be, in order to pack Martin Stadium -- after the Cougars went 0-5 at home in Pac-12 play? After Leach’s third losing season in as many years at WSU?

Leach has plenty of supporters, but an increasing number of fans are questioning the wisdom of paying $2.75 million a year to a man with a 12-25 record (7-20 Pac-12). Leach has continually complained about his team’s inability to overcome adversity. A word of advice, Coach: Just win, baby. That’ll solve those adversity issues.

The fact the Cougars lost on a night when the legendary Gleason spoke to the team prior to the game made the pain of defeat even worse. To their credit, the Cougars kept the loss of a football game in perspective when they discussed Gleason, who was inducted into the WSU Athletics Hall of Fame between the first and second quarters.

Even Huskies were seen applauding Gleason on the sideline. The former WSU football and baseball standout appeared on the video screen, speaking in a computer-generated voice because of his battle with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Gleason was then brought onto the field in his wheelchair.

“He made us very revved up before the game and got us going,” cornerback Daquawn Brown said. “We love Steve Gleason.”

“He’s just a great example, a great person,” Leach said.

Leach did not need to add that Gleason is a great winner. Once Leach fills WSU’s roster with great winners, the Cougars will be great once more. Saturday night was just one more reminder that the process will not be as easy or as quick as was once thought three years ago.

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