Reflections on ugly game, uplifting season

WASHINGTON STATE (8-4, 6-3 Pac-12) put bookends on their regular season by imploding against Washington (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12). It’s unlikely Cougar fans even glanced up at the scoreboard by the end. It read UW 45, Washington State 10. A season that began with an improbable loss ended with a loss where the Cougs shot themselves in the foot so often, they had to reload.

No one, including the most fanatical folks comprising Husky Nation, expected this edition of Apple Cup to be a one-sided rout.

You can't point to a lack of effort on the Cougs’ part. No, the key to this game was one team executing while the other team flat out didn’t.

Seven turnovers by WSU created more than enough opportunities for the Huskies to claim an Apple Cup victory, give them bowl eligibility and climb to .500.

It would be easy enough to point to a change at quarterback when potential All-American Luke Falk watched this rivalry game from the sideline in his street clothes. And that certainly was a factor.

Mike Leach sent Peyton Bender out to run the Air Raid offense. On the first possession, Bender smartly moved the offense 61 yards before WSU settled for a 41 yard field goal by Erik Powell. A decent start -- one that contradicted everything that would follow.

The high powered aerial attack of Washington State would score just once more over the final 55 minutes.

Exhibiting a calm demeanor similar to Falk, Bender looked unflappable. He also looked unproductive.

From this chair, which was a long way away from the field, Bender seemed to lack the leadership of Cool Hand Luke. Instead of blasting and bombing away in a well-practiced, aerial assault orchestrated by Leach against the UW defense, the Cougar offense was more like a cacophony of neighborhood kids banging away on guitars in the neighbor’s garage.

Bender was always going to be challenged by a Husky defense that rated tops in the conference on the stats page. But he had time, especially in the first half, from his o-line.

As the game wore on, the more he tried to find his receivers in space, the more the forced throws that worked against his scout team this week in practice resulted in too many errant passes, too many interceptions.

The level of intensity the Cougar defense has played with this season was on display in Seattle. Indeed, you have to look at other facets of the game beyond Bender to sort out what the heck happened to WSU.

In a game where you’re either forcing mistakes or making them, WSU was caught out of position far too often. Faced with defending a short field more times than any other game this season, the WSU D began to give up the explosion plays more and more.

This week, the bend-don’t-break style of play by the Washington State defense continually took the field following futile efforts by the offense. Too many scoreless drives required too many time the defense needed to get the football back to their offense.

Bottom line, the Cougars weren’t very good this week.

If you’re wondering, the odds appear very favorable to this writer the Cougs in the postseason will return to the form that netted them eight regular season wins in 12 tries. Give Mike Leach and his staff another 15 practices to prepare for their bowl game, and their ninth win on the season could be just around the corner.

As bad as this game went for WSU, this season is a different story altogether when looked at on the whole.

Redemption and completion remain opportunity yet to be realized. But Cougar Nation will get the chance to see their team win one more time in the 2015-16 season

This team will be back. Count on it.

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