'It hurts. That's all I can say.'

PULLMAN -- In the hyper-competitive Pac-10, the only sure things on Washington State's 2005 dance card figured to be Oregon State, Stanford and Washington. Now, with maddening losses to the first two to open the conference season, the crimson outlook has gone 180. Instead of needing one or two other victories to improve the quality of the bowl invitation Bill Doba had guaranteed, it's hand-wringing time over whether this team can manage another W before Idaho is served up again next season.

The next five weeks reads like a horror story: UCLA, Cal, USC, Arizona State and Oregon. Top 25 all around. The finale, in Seattle against a visibly improving Washington team, also looks suddenly cloudy.

WSU came into Saturday's home date with Stanford as a two-TD favorite and at times looked flatter than the tires on an old Pinto in the junkyard. Not exactly the send off you want heading into next week's battle with UCLA, which extended its record to 5-0 yesterday with a dramatic 47-40 win over Cal.

Asked if playing the surging Bruins next Saturday would pump the Cougs up, head coach Bill Doba said, "I hope so, at this point. We'll have to get fired up for next week. I told them to keep their heads up."

Getting confidence back into the players after two deflating losses in a row will be a test for the coaching staff.

"You don't quit, you play," said offensive coordinator Mike Levenseller said. "You go back to practice and dig in, and try to get better. The challenge is at hand. It doesn't do any good to berate them. You make them believe in themselves."

Consistency was one of the themes coming out of the Cougar locker room after the loss to Stanford.

"We have to be more consistent over 60 minutes of play," defensive coordinator Robb Akey said. "We need to focus on fixing the little things."

Doba said the same thing in his post-game radio show.

Last year, a defensive meltdown in the second half against Oregon resulted in a painful loss, followed by a lackluster performance a week later against these same damnable dudes from Palo Alto. At first glance, the situation seems to be mirrored this year.

"This is a real different team from last year," Akey said. "Folks that sit back can look at it like that, but there is a lot of work being done between the games. You've got to learn from the last game. You try to address those situations. We still have work to do."

Quarterback Alex Brink, who completed 13 of 26 passes for 161 yards, also touched on the inconsistency.

"We felt like it was a winnable game," he said. "The goal is still a bowl game. We'll be up for UCLA. These two games are behind us, so we can't do a lot about it now. We'll focus on the next six games. We need to bounce back, and fight against UCLA."

Jerome Harrison had another great day, rushing for 218 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. "I don't feel we're out of sync," Harrison said. "We're a big play team. We just had some mental mistakes."

Harrison feels the Cougs will be able to get pumped up for UCLA. "Athletes play their best against the best," he said.


Frustration with missed plays and mental lapses was a common theme after Saturday's loss. "We were flat out there," said DE Adam Braidwood. "We didn't do anything to stop them. At first we didn't play with a lot of heart. We are beating ourselves. We lacked luster, and we were flat. It looked like we didn't care out there."

Junior DE Mkristo Bruce, who turned in perhaps his finest day as a Cougar, said problems need to be corrected on the spot rather than later.

"It's mental mistakes," Bruce said. "We need to nip it in the bud. We need to fix them now. We need to go out and play Cougar football. It's very frustrating."

Bruce was at a loss for words in explaining the slow start Saturday. "I don't know what it was," he said before pausing. "I don't know. There were certain times…it was something. It hurts, that's all I can say."

Against a Stanford team that has struggled mightily and lost earlier this season to a 1-AA school, the Cougs struggled to contain the offense. Stanford racked up 475 yards (the Cougs had 407). Perhaps the most telling stat: WSU's defense didn't force any three-and-outs all day.

"We had some opportunities to stop (Trent Edwards) and we didn't," Akey said. "That was the disappointing part, when we had the opportunities. We couldn't stop the drives."


One of the big questions coming into Saturday was how well the Cougs would be able to do without receiver Jason Hill and middle linebacker Will Derting. Freshman Greg Trent started in place of Derting, while Trandon Harvey and various others stepped up in place of Hill.

Still, there was acknowledgement afterward it's quite the tall task to replace such big-time talents.

"You're always going to miss a senior player of that caliber," Akey said of Derting.

"Losing Derting hurts," Doba said. "He's the leader in the huddle. We played a true freshman out there. They ran the ball in there pretty well."

Bruce gave props to the young linebackers Greg Trent and Jason Stripling. "They did a great job," Bruce said. "You can't replace Will Derting, but they did a great job."

Hill (quad) was a game time decision, and in the end he wasn't able to make it onto the field. "We missed our deep threat," Doba said. "We tried to run him, but he couldn't go."

"We didn't lose because we didn't have Hill," said Brink, who threw one TD pass and two interceptions.


Over the last two games, Brink has thrown two touchdowns against six interceptions….field position woes hurt the Cougs for the second straight game. While Stanford often had a relatively short field to work with, the best starting position for WSU all day was its own 21. Stanford also held a 14-minute advantage is time of possession.

WSU outside linebacker Steve Dildine was all over the field for the second straight game. He posted 11 tackles against the Card, following up on the 13 he had against Oregon State.

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