Unfortunately, Washington State got an early wake-up call from Onterrio Smith and the Oregon Ducks yesterday, falling for the first time this year, 24-17.
Make that Onterrio Heisman.
Indeed, Smith looked like he was priming to "strike the pose." When not leaving WSU defenders grasping for air, the Green Ghost became the Green Hornet, painfully stinging any Crimson Soldier foolish enough to attempt a chest-level tackle.
With bursts of speed and lateral movements as fluid as Wayne Gretzky on ice, Smith inked himself into the Oregon record book with 285 yards rushing, besting the 30-year record held by Ahmad Rashad (nee: Bobby Moore). Smith also eclipsed Moore's and Keenan Howry's all-purpose yardage record with 343 total.
And the numbers get uglier: UO back Maurice Morris rushed for 138 yards before leaving the game in the third quarter with a bum ham. In all, the Ducks compiled a stunning 446 ground yards, another school record and the most against a Cougar D since Kansas rushed for 467 in 1976.
And yet, somehow, someway, the Cougs came within 8 yards of sending this one into overtime. Therein, my Crimson and Gray brothers and sisters, lays the true identity of this 2001 Cougar football team.
Buy in or leave?
We've bought in, and we're not going anywhere. Who among the rain-soaked Cougar faithful didn't actually believe Jason Gesser and company would tie this game as time expired?
The fact that Gesser refused to concede Oregon's supremacy in his post-game comments—although making some of us bristle—gives us great insight into this Cougar team. In the recent past, such a loss would've been mourned for "what might've been." Now, this defeat has WSU players angrily declaring, "what should've been." That small matter of semantics, Cougfans, is what separates the pretenders from the contenders.
Yes, there's always a price to pay for a loss, but more so than most with this one. A victory would've put Wazzu alone in the driver's seat of the Pac-10 conference. Instead, the loss has us fighting for the steering wheel with four other teams. A win would've placed WSU in the fifth or sixth slot of the coveted BCS poll and made us official contenders for the—gulp—national championship. Beat the Ducks and this 2001 edition of Cougar football would have been just the second team in school history—the 1930 Rose Bowl squad being the other—to start a season with eight straight wins. (It's also worth noting that a week eight loss to Arizona State was the Cougs only regular season setback in 1997.)
But ain't that a beautiful thing?
Think about it: we're not just lamenting a loss, we're lamenting our only loss in eight games. We're moaning about spoiled chances for a national championship trophy. We're bummed about starting the crucial November month tied for first place. I'm pissed because I've almost forgotten how to write a "losing" article. In a mere two months, from our opener against Idaho to yesterday's game versus Oregon, we—Cougar players, coaches, and fans—have raised the bar on WSU football to unprecedented heights. Hell, two months ago, many Cougfans thought a 7-win season might be a pipe dream.
Well, smoke this Wazzu faithful: yesterday's loss to the Ducks be damned, Cougar football has turned the corner. This Cougar team has given the program a much-needed transfusion of success, spirit, and faith that will benefit the program for years to come.
But we're not anywhere near talking next year or the year after. We're talking next weekend and the suddenly human UCLA Bruins, losers yesterday to a Stanford team Wazzu defeated just three weeks ago.
Hit the snooze button, Cougfans. This sweet dream is far from over.