USA Today Sports/Ramirez

What They’re Saying: Nightmare After Christmas

THE COUGS’ season ended as it began, with an excruciating loss against a team many believe they should have beaten. And so the question arises: Who are the Washington State Cougars? From coast to coast, pundits and fans try to answer that question as they react to the Holiday Bowl let down.

"Eight wins is the new six. Remember when Washington State went through a decade “hoping” to get to six wins and a bowl game? Then end up with five, or four or, in the awful years, two? We do. You probably do too. The bottom line has been raised. Six regular season wins would disappoint right now. That’s a good thing – and could also be a bad thing if and when it actually happens. Cougar fans want more. They saw glimpses of glory this year and liked it. So next year, eight wins will be expected."— Vince Grippi, Spokesman-Review

“The mission at hand is to characterize a group that, if not for a loss to Eastern Washington in early September, would have been in the national playoff conversation in mid-November…So how do you do it? How do you describe the 2016 Cougars after that Holiday Bowl? Unfortunately, like this: a team nowhere near as good as we once thought.” Matt Calkins, Seattle Times

"How could a season in which Washington State ripped off an unprecedented seven straight Pac-12 wins end not just with a thud, but a resounding whimper? Washington State's third-down conversion rate loomed large. Over its first 10 games, the Air Raid converted 50.7 percent of the time on third down (72 of 142).    Over the last three games, it plummeted to 33.3 percent (14 of 42)." —Barry Bolton, Cougfan

“The National Funding Holiday Bowl gained the reputation as ‘America’s Most Exciting Bowl Game’ during its formative years. Nine of the first 10 games were decided by a touchdown or less, with seven of those games in doubt until the game’s final minute. This was not that. Or was it?” Kirk Kenney, San Diego Union-Tribune

“We sucked. Our offense was horrible.” Gabe Marks

“A severely undermanned secondary going against an offense that passes with assembly line efficiency and frequency — that’s like being asked to run a 100-yard dash while hopping on one leg. The Gophers didn’t flinch, holding Washington State to its lowest point total of the season and 28 points below its average.” — Chip Scoggins, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“Minnesota (9-4) deserves credit for devising a defensive game plan that prevented WSU from finding any sort of rhythm, but the Cougars played like a disinterested team that still hadn't recovered from the back-to-back losses that ended their regular season.” — Kyle Bonagura, ESPN

“During a tense, emotional postgame press conference – they always are when a team loses its final game – Washington State coach Mike Leach acknowledged that the outside noise might have gotten through and led his players astray.” Jacob Thorpe, Spokesman-Review

“Anemic.” — Mike Leach when asked at halftime about his offense

“Holiday Bowl? How about the Nightmare After Christmas?” Andrew Bucholtz, The Comeback

“As a 10-point underdog, Minnesota entered the Holiday Bowl with a defensive backfield decimated by four suspensions and up against Washington State’s highly regarded, pass-oriented offense. Little-used Gophers safety Kunle Ayinde intercepted Cougars quarterback Luke Falk with three minutes remaining, running back Rodney Smith followed with a 9-yard touchdown run and Minnesota stunned Washington State 17-12." — Andy Greder, St. Paul Pioneer Press

“As Leach saw it – because every game is there for the winning – his 8-5 team ‘got upset five times.’ But, really, the Cougars – despite their mid-November pretensions – were 8-5 good. And when they needed to be better, they simply weren’t.” John Blanchette, Spokesman-Review

“The Cougars shot themselves in the foot on multiple occasions, failed to capitalize on some early opportunities and allowed Minnesota to sneak up and beat them at the end.” Stefanie Loh, Seattle Times

The Holiday Bowl was ugly as sin for the Cougars, but only on one side of the ball. What cruel irony then, that in a downer of a bowl game, Washington State played one of its best games of the season on the defensive side of the ball. Skyler Cracraft, Cougfan

“The clinching play (the two-point conversion attempt) was ‘War and Peace,’ abridged. It took more or less forever. Washington State quarterback Luke Falk searched, searched, searched for an open receiver, and when the pressure finally arrived, he couldn't afford to search anymore.” Dale Grummert, The Lewiston Tribune

AND FROM THE TWITTER-VERSE:

Let me know when @wsucougfb shows up to Qualcomm. Game was supposed to start almost 4 hours ago.@COUGforLIFE

A sandwich with moldy bread on top and bottom, but tasty fixings inside@PazzyJ (on the 2016 season)

Burn all video of this game within 24 hours.@DarnayTripp

Guess I’ll rely on the fact I would have drowned a puppy for 8-5 and a Holiday Bowl appearance, as sad as that is, just 5-6 years ago@425CougFan

The season ended with the Apple Cup anyways. Tonight was just a “kick you when you thought you were over it” moment.@GeoffONeil

I just finished watching Suicide Squad. Somehow it was only the second-biggest train wreck I saw tonight. #GoCougs — @mcrose14

The fan spirit at the Holiday Bowl was awesome. So much goodwill among all the tailgaters. Thanks to those who made it special — @GrampaTim

Welp. Erik Powell looked nice ¯\_(?)_/¯@KREMEvan

Regardless of the outcome tonight I'll never forget grinding over these last years with these guys. And turning this program around.#GoCougs@phenrywsu

Some say Washington State is still attempting that 2-point conversion to this day…@RTinMan13

Leach to Gesser: Mentally played in a phone booth - run the perfect play, call the perfect play ... Need to just let er rip — @COUGFANcom

Gabe Marks finished his career with WSU records for catches (316), receiving yards (3,453) and touchdowns (37) #GoCougs #AirRaid #GOAT — @wsucougfb

https://twitter.com/SportsCenter/status/813949748654772224

https://twitter.com/rodger_sherman/status/813934388778041348


Cougfan Top Stories