SEATTLE-First there was the Inaccurate Reception. Then there was the Blackout at the Clink.
And after the first 30 minutes of the Washington State-Oregon game Saturday night at CenturyLink Field, fans witnessed the makings of the Miracle in Seattle.
But alas, the Ducks’ 1,000-horsepower offense sunk the Cougars in the second half. The decisive third quarter saw Oregon toy with the home team, scoring 21 points and putting the game – which ended in a 51-26 WSU loss - out of reach.
Cougar Nation can take some solace. WSU hung with the country’s No. 2 team for half of the night. The team didn’t back down, it just couldn’t prevent the inevitable. Hey, it even covered the 30-point spread from Las Vegas.
Coach Mike Leach can use those positives to prepare his team for next week’s game against an Oregon State team that’s garnering national acclaim in its own right.
Still, the first-year head coach needs more than moral victories. He needs a win against a quality team.
When WSU announced Leach’s hiring after last season, it infused air into a deflated fan base. The Pirate was bringing his Air Raid offense to the Palouse. Fans believed anything was possible. They were talking bowl game at the end of this season.
Now, after five games, people are questioning whether this team will win another game the rest of the season.
To be sure, it’s not as if Leach was walking into a winning situation. He had to implement his schemes, as well as instill a culture of winning in a program that got used to losing. In both cases, he appears to have started down the right track.
But for WSU fans starved for wins – heck, starved for a competitive team – it’s not happening fast enough. The first five games for the highest paid and most hyped coach in school history have almost killed the party.
We didn’t expect a 2-3 team still looking for its first conference win.
A loss to Brigham Young hurts. A loss to Oregon stings. A loss to Colorado is nauseating.
Wins against Eastern Washington and UNLV aren’t going to cut it. Cougar fans expected more. After so much heartbreak and so many blowouts, we deserve more.
The argument some will make is that building a winning program takes time. My response? I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of looking down the road. We went through three years of waiting under the last coaching regime.
Fans didn’t get excited over Leach’s hiring because they wanted another building process. He was supposed to transition the Cougars to a high-powered, logic-defying team that would be a giant-slayer, if not a giant itself.
On Thursday night, we saw Washington’s fans rush CenturyLink Field after upsetting Stanford. Cougar fans yearn to do the same. Our upset – when it does happen – will be huge. They’ll be partying in Pullman for days.
But it needs to happen this year. It needs to be meaningful. Leach and the Cougars can’t lose the momentum they’ve built since his hiring.
We can’t wait another three years for a bowl game. We can’t suffer through another season of blowouts. The honeymoon over Leach’s hiring isn’t over, but we’ve booked a Sunday flight back home to work Monday morning.
WSU fans have pledged their allegiance to Leach and will stick with him no matter what. But unless the Coguars pick up one or more quality wins this year, the Pirate and the Cougars are in danger of falling back into the Paul Wulff zone. That’s where your fans wear crimson and gray and cheer for the team, but they self-medicate with plenty of beer before kickoff because they know their team is probably going to lose.
WSU fans are still excited. They still worship Leach. But they need a victory that shows the program is on its way toward winning.
A win at Oregon State next week will keep the party going.