Cougars flush a half-million

PULLMAN — Washington State agreed to pay Portland State half a million dollars to play football Saturday at Martin Stadium. In return, the Vikings agreed to roll over and play dead.

What? That wasn’t in the contract? Technically, no. Still, all parties were well aware of the exceedingly long odds facing the cash-starved Vikings, who accepted a $525,000 paycheck in exchange for a presumed whipping at the hands of a team from the mighty Pac-12 Conference.

“Presumed” is the key word here. As for “mighty,” that certainly didn’t apply to Washington State on a dark, dreary day that became infinitely darker and drearier for WSU supporters when the Cougars suffered one of the more embarrassing defeats in school history.

Too strong a statement? Not at all. Consider the evidence:

The Cougars lost to a team picked to finish 12th in the 13-team Big Sky Conference in the league’s preseason media poll.

The Cougars lost to a current Big Sky school for the third time in school history — in 49 games dating back to 1903 — and for the first time ever in 31 home games.

The Cougars lost to a Portland State team they outscored 107-30 in their two other meetings, including 59-21 last year.

Last but not least, the Cougars lost 24-17 to a Football Championship Subdivision team (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) that passed the ball just 12 times and is 3-31 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision teams (formerly NCAA Division I-A) like Washington State.

Is it too early for WSU fans to panic after just one game? Of course. Is it too early for WSU fans to be calling for the head of Mike Leach? That might be up for debate, but Leach was quick to reply when asked at the post-game press conference if he’s worries about his job security.

“I don’t,” Leach said, “because all they had out of me was my best. I do the best I can every day.”

Leach’s best has produced a 12-26 record (7-20 Pac-12) in four years on the Palouse. He won three games in his first and third seasons, which is one less win than predecessor Paul Wulff won in his final season. Leach’s Cougars are 0-4 in season openers and have lost six consecutive home games, which may help explain why attendance was just 24,302. Fewer people actually showed up, and the soggy stadium was largely deserted after halftime.

Making matters worse is the fact that Leach is the highest paid state employee in Washington at $2.75 million a year. Simply put, wins over teams like Portland State should not be expected so much as they are demanded.

“We have to understand it never comes easy,” Leach said.

Moving forward, there should be no confusion on that matter.

• So-o-o-o, what exactly happened Saturday? Take it away, guys.

“They just out-competed us,” running back Gerard Wicks said.

“We beat ourselves,” linebacker Jeremiah Allison said.

“We tried to make too much happen,” Leach said. “We never loosened up.”

Leach added, “It’s a shame, because we’re a lot better team than that. We haven’t had a practice that bad.”

Wicks and wide receiver Gabe Marks said some Cougars let the rainy weather distract them.

“Guys started to worry about what the conditions were more than the game,” Marks said.

Wicks agreed, saying, “It seemed like everybody was bothered by the weather instead of just playing the game.”

Quarterback Peyton Bender said, “I’d be lying to you if I said weather didn’t play a factor. Guys were dropping balls probably because it was wet.”

Allison noted, “They (the Vikings) were playing in the same rain we were playing in.” Allison was one of several Cougars who praised the Vikings and shook hands with PSU players afterwards, though the vast majority of WSU’s players headed straight to the locker room.

“They played good,” Allison said. “Hats off to their coach (interim head coach Bruce Barnum). “He’s a really good coach. The team came to play.”

Barnum, Portland State’s offensive coordinator the previous five years, said he played down WSU’s Pac-12 status when preparing his players for the game.

“Maybe that’s why we came in here and the guys did believe a little bit,” Barnum said. “I didn’t talk about Pac-12 and Washington State. I said there were going to be 11 guys on the other side, that are better in a lot of spots, and it’s a good football team.

“We had 60 minutes. Sometimes they got after us, but we kept fighting and came up on the right side of the stick.”

Leach said, “Portland State deserves a lot of credit. They’ve got a bunch of seniors. Those guys hung together when they faced adversity. They just waited it out and worked their way through it, and we never really did that. We got impatient, tried to make too much happen.”

• Bender said he prepared to start all week during practices, so nothing will change for him if Luke Falk can’t play next Saturday at Rutgers (12:30 p.m., ESPN2 or ESPNU).

Bender, a redshirt freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., entered the game with 1 minute, 18 seconds, remaining after Falk was injured. Obviously, the pressure on Bender was considerable. He completed 1 of 3 passes for 18 yards before he was intercepted by Aaron Sibley at the PSU 27-yard line with 42 seconds left. The ball was deflected when receiver Tyler Baker and safety Walter Santiago battled for the ball.

“It was a tight window,” Bender said, “but I thought I could fit it in there. The ball just bounced up in the air and they made a nice play on it.”

• Considerable angst has been expressed by some fans over Washington State’s failure to land more in-state recruits under the Leach regime. Some of the complaints are legitimate, some not so much.

The fact is, Washington high schools have not been churning out large numbers of top recruits in recent years. This helps explain why the Huskies started only three in-state players and listed five others on the two-deep depth chart (excluding special teams) Friday in their season-opening loss at Boise State. The Cougars had four in-state starters and three others listed as the top reserves.

• There was almost as much talent in the stands as on the field Saturday, since Klay Thompson, Deone Bucannon, Mark Rypien and members of the 1965 “Kardiac Kids” returned to campus.

Thompson, the Golden State Warriors star from WSU, brought along the Larry O’Brien Trophy the Warriors claimed as NBA champions this past season. Thompson raised the Cougars flag prior to the game.

Bucannon, the Arizona Cardinals’ first-round draft pick out of WSU last year, enjoyed a short break before the NFL season starts next week. Rypien was presented with the Alumni Achievement Award on the field in the third quarter. Rypien enjoyed a fine career at WSU, then won the Super Bowl MVP award as quarterback of the champion Washington Redskins in 1992.

The 1965 Cougars, who won a series of nail-biters to finish 7-3, were represented by approximately two dozen players during a halftime ceremony.

WSU students – in uniform and out – provided plenty of entertainment on the stadium’s giant video screen.

Offensive linemen were featured in a video providing tips to fans on how to support the team. Linebacker Peyton Pelluer did his best MTV impression when he lip-synced and danced.

NOTABLE NOTES:

• The Cougars outgained PSU 411-294 in total yards, but Washington State had all four fumbles (losing one).

• The Cougars led 10-0 at the half, when they held a 274-66 edge in total yards and a 43-19 advantage in offensive plays. “We came out flat in the second half,” Wicks said. “They came out ready to play.”

• Allison led all players with 12 tackles.

• Falk and Portland State starting quarterback Alex Kuresa were high school rivals in Utah. Kuresa made his college debut as a wide receiver in BYU’s home win over Washington State in 2012.

• Kuresa completed 7 of 12 passes for 61 yards. Paris Penn took a number of snaps at quarterback but only ran the ball. “We prepared for it in practice,” Allison said.

• The Cougars gave away free tickets this week to fans who donated cash, food or water to help those who have fought or survived wildfires in the region.

• Baker started at the X position but shared time with Robert Lewis, who had been listed on the depth chart release as the starter.


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