"I told our kids we were really lucky," said coach Bill Doba. And he paused for a moment before he let the other shoe drop. "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. They had the opportunity, and three plays later we were in the end zone."
Still, that finish must have led to a raucous plane ride home. A victory such as this was surely celebrated by the players all the way back to Pullman, right?
Not so much.
"We had just gotten in the air and I looked back and I didn't see one guy that was awake," Doba said with a chuckle. "They were all exhausted. According to ABC, it was 125 degrees on the field -- and it felt like it. I really give our kids credit."
The heat may have had something to with the Cougar defense not looking as sharp to start the second half. A long opening drive from Arizona saw a number of missed tackles by the Cougs and just a general sense of malaise on the part of the defense. But then the D came back strong when the Wildcats were knocking on the door.
"Other than the fact (Arizona) executed really well, it looked like on video that our kids were trying to pace themselves to go two more quarters," explained Doba. "There were some missed tackles and we just weren't bringing our legs with us... And credit to (Arizona). I thought they came out in the second half and did well."
"But credit our defense too, because they got down there and we stopped them, held them to a field goal. The next series we fumble.. and the defense stopped them (from reaching the end zone) again."
Credit this defense, indeed. Consider the time of possession in the second half. It makes it all the more remarkable the performance on D given the brutal conditions.
3rd Quarter................. 3:27 11:33
4th Quarter................. 3:07 11:43
The hard fought game in extreme heat exacted a toll on the players. Besides the more notable injuries, there are many, many more players dinged up as well -- the bye week arrives at the most opportune of times.
Tight end Cody Boyd was being X-rayed Sunday to rule out a broken collarbone. The AC sprain (shoulder separation) looked a bit more severe than did Marty Martin's. But both are significant injuries. Martin was also in for X-rays on Sunday. More should be known on their injuries on Tuesday.
Troy Bienemann suffered a deep bruise on the fibula. X-rays had come back on Bienemann and were negative. Bienemann should be good to go for Oregon in two weeks.
Jeremy Bohannon has a slight hip pointer and Hamza Abdullah has a groin strain. Neither injury is expected to prevent them playing against Oregon. Josh Swogger appears to have come through the game just fine. But they, and the rest of the team, can certainly use this time to heal up.
"It was a tough, tough ball game," said Doba. "I think its the perfect time for a bye. We really need it. We're pretty beat up, our kids are sore."
Well back before the season began, Doba made mention of one of his chief concerns with this young team.
"If we didn't have the injuries, I'd feel real comfortable. And that was my comment before the season started. I was concerned with young kids not being quite as strong as seniors (and thus more prone to injuries.")
The Cougs may get defensive tackles Ropati Pitoitua and Steve Cook back for the tilt with Oregon. Both are currently listed as questionable. Pitoitua will run a bit next Tuesday and they'll evaluate his progress at that time. It looks promising for Cook to be able to go for Oregon, but they won't know for sure until later next week.
With those two starting tackles out, Aaron Johnson has made the most of his opportunity, Doba he was pleased with how both AJ and Odell Howard battled on Saturday for the entire game. "Aaron Johnson has really grown up," said Doba. "We'd like to get one of those guys (Pitoitua and Cook) back to get a three man rotation again."
On offense, mistakes are preventing Washington State from being as good as they can be -- the offensive line turned in their best performance to date but a missed cut back by a running back, a missed block by a wide receiver, penalties, these are the kinds of things that continue to hurt the offense and the running game in particular. But that offensive line did some very good things on Saturday.
"I thought they did a great job of protection," Doba said. "Josh had plenty of time to throw it. I thought Mihlhauser played a good ballgame. He got out a couple times and cut a linebacker. He's snapping that ball awfully hard though, we've got to get him to slow down a little bit, that thing's rifling back there to Josh."
Doba said the first fumble was a bad snap, the second one he said the coaches take the blame. He said the staff should have had Swogger go to a silent count. Mihlhauser snapped the ball when he mistakenly thought Swogger called for it. And while the line did a very credible job in creating some running lanes, there are other issues that concern Doba more.
"We had decent runs more than a couple times," said Doba. "We're close. We're close to doing some things, to really breaking open the running game."
"But we cannot play like we did Saturday and expect to win the rest of the season."
Doba said he doesn't want the defense sitting on their heels, he wants them to play aggressive. But four off-sides calls is a little too much. And the kinds of infractions WSU has been flagged on, such as lining up off-sides, do not please Doba at all -- he called those kinds of penalties "inexcusable".
"We've got some really tough opponents coming up, we have to cut down on penalties. You're going to have a defensive off-sides occasionally -- but we had four of them. We had two false starts on the offense. We can't afford to have those kinds of penalties."
"You're going to get a hold now and then, you're going to get a block in the back on a punt return occasionally. But we've got to be a lot sharper than that. I don't know if it was the heat or the crowd or whatever - but that's all alibis, we've just got to get better. And thank goodness we have two weeks to do that."
Chris Bruhn didn't play much in the game, the Cougs instead went to Jerome Harrison and then later, Allen Thompson. When asked, Doba didn't rule out a change in the starting running back for Oregon.
"We'll look at that in practice Thursday and make that decision next week. I'll tell you what, if (Bruhn) didn't fumble, the center or guard got pushed back (into him) a little bit , but if he makes that cut there was a gigantic hole...that's another one of the big plays that ended up being a negative for us that could have been a big play."
Still, with all the mistakes and issues, the bottom line is this: Doba is pretty pleased with this team. Not because they can get away with that many mistakes and still win a tough ball game on the road. No, because he sees how good this team can be..
"I think we're real close to being a real good team," Doba said slowly and with added emphasis. "We're not there yet. Even though (you'll hear) 'It was an ugly win' and all that, there were a lot of good positive things on the video."
"We've just got to clean up these little errors. But those are the kinds of things that we can (improve upon) and work on. I think this league is really even. The team that doesn't make mistakes and beat themselves is the team I think will win this conference.
Loren Langley's missed field goal against UA, after missing two against Colorado, doesn't concern Doba too much. But he did make it a point to let Langley know what defines a good kick, and what is a bad kick.
"He can hit 50, I think he could hit 55, he's done that in practice. We've got a good situation (with Graham Siderius handling kick-offs and Langley the field goal kicker.) We just have to give Loren a little more time. He said, 'It was a good kick, it just didn't go through', and I said, 'No, that's not a good kick.' It's just a matter of time, experience and patience and I think he'll be okay."
The team runs a bunch of different protection drills every week. There was nothing in practice leading up to Arizona to indicate a problem holding onto the football was imminent. The defensive players constantly look to strip the ball from the offense, both during the play and after, even when they're jogging back to the huddle. Omowale Dada is the best at that, by the way, and the results were evident on the field when Dada forced a fumble Saturday.
Doba went on to say some of the fumbles are simply the result of good play by the opponent, such as the one involving Cody Boyd. After a rough start with a few drops and now the injury, Doba said Boyd will be just fine, provided a timely return from the separated shoulder. "That was just a great hit on that kid's part.. (Cody will) be okay. He's a good athlete and he'll be just fine. I just hope that shoulder isn't something that will be a nagging injury, (or turn out to be a broken collarbone.")
Direct contact isn't allowed during the current recruiting period but Doba will send his coaches out to observe practice, talk to coaches, pick up video and try to unearth that player who has been flying under the radar. The team is off until Thursday. The Cougs may, depending on how healthy everybody is, hold a Saturday scrimmage with the young players, as they usually try to do during a bye week.
The Cougs nominees for Pac-10 Player of the Week
Defense - Will Derting. Doba said the coaches stats are a little different than what the official statistician has down. The coaches had Derting with 9 tackles, 7 assists, 1 sack, 3 pass break ups.
Offense - Josh Swogger. Doba called Swogger's performance "a courageous effort". The quarterback was 18-37 for 282 yards. he tossed two touchdowns, both to Jason Hill and had no interceptions.
Special Teams - Kyle Basler. The junior punter had a tremendous day. His seven boots had an average of 53.4 yards, with a sterling net of about 49 yards. And then there was the 87-yarder, a Washington State record. "We stopped that and ran it back on video," said Doba. His foot made contact at the five-yard line, it hit on the 18-yard line -- that's 77 yards in the air. It rolled 5 yards deep in the end zone. So thats a total of 100 yards. He's a real weapon."