Doug is aggravated, believing he saw a different team during spring and summer. His buddy, "The Cougar Spirit," absolutely beside himself, is left wondering why he believed once again WSU would be going to the Rose Bowl. He sends a text to his father, a lifelong and generational Coug, pleading for answers. His father responds with a simple, uplifting thought.
"We can still go 12-1.”
Let me ask you this question: Why not us?
Are the Cougs 0-5 in their last five season openers? Yes. But they also went to a bowl game two of the last three years. Many Cougs will take those results. If Mike Leach has shown us anything, it's that he knows how to win. But what does he need for his system to work?
He needs a humbled and hungry team ready to ignore the preseason articles and hype and realize each week must be a mini-season within itself. Every player must weekly put their ego in check and ask, ‘How do I help this team win?’
Call it what you want, call it blind faith. But the Cougar Faithful need to turn to their depressed friend and say "STOP! Back away from the ledge, Cougar fans. The sky is not falling and the season is not over."
Was this WSU-EWU game frustrating, was it embarrassing? Absolutely. Was the hype bubble that surrounded this year popped in the first game? Yes. Should Wazzu stop scheduling FCS teams as "easy warm-up wins?" Maybe. But the ultimate reality is this is only one game. When looking at the season in its entirety, this game will always only add up to one.
By no means is this loss insurmountable, and with that mindset let's see where we can find some areas to focus on moving forward.
Things to correct: Offense
WSU scored 42 points, and six TDs is good enough to win. But good enough is not acceptable, the Cougs need to do better than "good enough." And that includes Luke Falk.
1) Trying to force a play at the end of the second quarter. I have no problem with Falk throwing it downfield in that situation. But this was either a miscommunication with slot man River Cracraft or the ball one sailed on Falk because the two players closest to the pigskin were wearing the opposite color. It was a costly mistake as the turnover led to a field goal, and ultimately the margin of victory.
2) After the penalty calling back Jamal Morrow’s TD run, Falk took a sack and backed up the field goal unit 10 yards. He must throw the ball away or use one of his check downs in that situation. He has to understand where we are on the field, and the difference between a 30-yard chip shot and a 40-yard boot.
Things to correct: Defense
A lot to choose from here.
1) Get more pressure and wrap up on tackles and sacks; make sure their best player is guarded every play; or just keep it simple -- get some stops and get off the field. But my correction to the defense goes back to Football 101: Control the little things.
In this case the little thing is to be on the field. This goes out to the young men not on the field, the ones making headlines without football being the focus: You must appreciate the gift you have been given by WSU. It starts with returning the education and opportunity with something simple, like being out on the field.
On defense, you have to make calls on the fly in the heat of battle. In these moments you lean on experienced upperclassmen to pull the jitters out of guys under the bright lights for the first time. Not only was WSU without one of its leaders on D in Shalom Luani, but then because of a play of frustration Wazzu lost another safety when Robert Taylor was flagged for targeting.
These little things have nothing to do with ability -- and everything to do with priorities and discipline.
Things to correct: Special Teams
WSU's special teams units must answer the call when it comes. As mentioned earlier, the field goal could have been made much easier. But you still need to nail that kick.
All in all, WSU won the special teams battle with two big plays: forcing a field goal miss and a great return, with even better blocking, and one step away from ending an 11-year drought on a punt return for a score. But a return to the house, on this night, just wasn't meant to be.
A few weeks ago I wrote a piece for Cougfan.com: Jed Collins and the NFL Cocktail Party. If you want to see a textbook example of what I was talking about, go back and watch Gerard Wicks' TD run. First and foremost, my thoughts go out to the injured EWU player. After walking off under his own strength, I pray he is okay. From a player and fan perspective, I greatly appreciate the raw power Wicks runs with. And I know WSU has found its short-yardage tailback.
Coug of the game: Jamal Morrow
The drive to start the fourth quarter really highlighted Morrow's talents -- a 15-yard run off tackle, a third-down check-down by Falk that Morrow turned into a first down, and then a solid goal-line run with Morrow breaking tackles and getting in for the score. (Alas, that TD was called back due to a ticky-tack holding call; the Cougs' receiver got jammed off the ball and managed to recover to make a nice block, but when your hands are out of place and the referee sees a player get turned, it becomes an easy call).
Morrow also made a statement on an all-out Eastern blitz, picking up the attacker and allowing Gabe Marks to break free on his 53-yard TD catch and run. Morrow even ended the game with a highlight with his best Jeshua Anderson impression, hurdling the EWU defensive player on the sideline.
Atta Boy! to Marcellus Pippins
Washington State was down and in dire need of a play. EWU continued to drive, as they had all game. On second-down-and goal, with QB Gage Gubrud matching Falk throw for throw, he confidently floated a high fade to the back of the end zone. Eastern is up 38-28 and if Gubrud connects, the game is over.
But that's when Pippins shows off his vertical, and with a 180-degree spin makes a picture-perfect interception. It's one of those plays you see over and over in your mind's eye. It was almost poetry.
The Cougs have been here before, that is disturbingly comforting. A team that defines itself as approaching each week as a one-week season will put this one behind them and move onto the Smurf Turf at Boise with an agenda: Go 1-0.
Could Washington State go 12-1? Statistically, Yes. Could the Cougs be a team that again shocks the college football world in the same way as a year ago? It is not going to be easy. But in the words of Cougar legend Steve Gleason, “Awesome Ain’t Easy!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jed Collins, 30, spent seven seasons in the NFL with eight teams, working his way from undrafted free agent and practice squad player to starting fullback for the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions. He retired after the 2015 season. From 2004-07 he was an all-everything standout at Washington State, where he played linebacker, fullback and tight end. “Jedzilla,” as Cougar fans affectionately dubbed him, earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors as a senior in 2007 after catching 52 Alex Brink passes for 512 yards. Today he is an associate with the Seattle-based wealth management firm Brighton Jones.