Huskies needed a change of game plan. Cougars stuck to theirs. The result: A 7th consecutive Apple Cup loss for WSU, whose coach, Mike Leach, lashed out at a columnist.
Normally sports history is written after the big game. Ever the iconoclast, Washington Huskies senior C Nick Harris decided to write history before the Apple Cup. He took out a Sharpie Thursday and, along the bottom of his game undershirt, wrote in big letters, “WE DON’T LOSE TO COUGS.” He put an X through the final word.
“It’s just truth — no inspiration,” he said. “I’m a a truthful person. I like to keep it real. This time I did it on my shirt.”
The shirt now is part of game lore that goes back a century. Which seems like the same amount of time since Washington State beat the Huskies.
Actually, it’s just seven years. But in a world that now measures nanoseconds, it’s a long time.
So long that, following the Huskies’ 31-13 triumph (box) Friday that fulfilled Harris’s forecast, Cougars coach Mike Leach found the truth too much. He spoke what he thinks is his truth, even though it revealed what he didn’t want known: He can’t take the pressure that comes with truth.
Post-game, he jumped all over longtime Spokesman-Review columnist John Blanchette, apparently over long-standing grievances. He did it in an insulting, petty way that will not enhance the resume of a guy who annually appears atop the list of candidates for other jobs, which is a season of its own that begins this weekend with the bloodletting among college coaches who lose too much.
Leach began his by-now-traditional defense of losing to the Huskies by citing the disparity in recruiting classes between the schools, suggesting that the Huskies’ collection of superior athletes automatically means they should win, and thus is no surprise.
“So, you’re not supposed to beat teams that have higher-ranked recruiting classes,” Blanchette said.
Mike Leach didn’t care to get into a conversation with @JPBlanchette about why #WSU can’t beat #UW despite having success against other teams with top-10 recruiting classes. Leach gets pretty fiery here. pic.twitter.com/fLa17dLJI0
— Theo Lawson (@TheoLawson_SR) November 30, 2019
“Well, we certainly have before. We certainly have before. We didn’t win this one,” Leach said. “I don’t care to have a big discussion with you on it because I really don’t care what you think.”
As another question started to be asked, Leach cracked and spewed toward Blanchette.
“You run your mouth in your little column and stuff like some sanctimonious troll,” Leach said. “Where you’ve never been fair or even-handed with us, so I really don’t care what you think. Because you’re going to write some nasty stuff anyway like you always do, and I don’t know which Coug way back when did something that offended you, and I really don’t care about that, either.
“You can live your little meager life in your little hole and write nasty things, and if that makes you feel even . . . you go right ahead. OK, next.”
Leach’s tirade checks the box at the top of the list in the helpful guide, “How to Recognize a Petty Tyrant.” He attacked the messenger. Taking no responsibility for his own shortcomings that contributed to the Cougars’ annual shellacking, Leach lashed out childishly with vituperation that demonstrates dubious fitness for the job at a school in a big-time conference.
What happened Friday on the field, a cold but sunny and dry track at sold-out Husky Stadium, was the same thing that happened a year ago in Pullman in darkness and snow: Leach was out-smarted, and failed to find Plan B when A failed.
For years, the Huskies have pounded the Cougars senseless with a running game. The seven consecutive wins have been by a combined score of 203-99. But after a terrible outing the past Saturday in a 20-14 loss at Colorado, UW coach Chris Petersen temporarily shelved the rush for the pass, due in no small part to the fact that the Cougars have parted ways over the past year, for various reasons, with 12 members of their secondary.
“Coming out of Colorado, we didn’t want to be in a situation where we try to pound it, and not take enough chances (with the pass),” said Bush Hamdan, the Huskies’ beleaguered offensive coordinator who needed this game to bolster his job security. “We wanted to be aggressive, take some shots. Getting into a throw-first style is different than what we’ve done.”
Doing something different? Huh. What a thing.
“It’s no secret that every (defense) is going to play in the box with 11 guys eight yards from the ball, and pack it in there (against UW),” Petersen said. “If they were going to do that, we were going to have to hit some plays downfield. That happened today. It’s the only way to operate.
“That’s been a little bit of our problem. We have needed to throw more efficiently, and if you can’t, you’re going to have problems.”
At first, it looked grim. The Cougars opened splendidly, with an 81-yard, 13-play scoring drive that took six minutes, as QB Anthony Gordon’s short-pass game shredded UW’s defense. As it turned out, the touchdown would be their only one of the afternoon for an offense that scored 54 points the previous week in a one-point win over Oregon State.
Washington’s first pass attempt resulted in a sack of QB Jacob Eason. The second play was an incompletion, followed by a four-yard pass to WR Terrell Bynum when 15 yards were needed for a first down. What are they doing?
After a three-and-out exchange of punts, Washington’s next possession started with a run, two yards from freshman RB Richard Newton. Then the shot was called.
Eason unfurled a towering chuck over CB George Hicks that Bynum caught for a 57-yard gain to the WSU 12-yard line. Three running plays later, Eason scored his first rushing touchdown when he powered a keeper from three yards to tie.
“Once we hit the first big one to Bynum, it’s a confidence thing,” said Hamdan. “Guys loosened up.
“We felt all week that there would be opportunities when (WSU) played us tight.”
Seven and sometimes eight defensive backs stymied Gordon and allowed the UW rush to sack him five times, as well as forcing him to throw two interceptions. But Leach, as always, stuck to the Air Raid and produced only two field goals the rest of he way.
The Cougars had more time of possession, more first downs, more passing yards, and were better on third downs, with fewer penalties. Didn’t matter that Gordon hit on 18 of 21 passes in the first quarter, and 48 of 62 overall.
“It’s not about yards or time of possession — it’s points,” said Petersen. “You have to be patient in letting them do those things, then strike when you can. Make them kick a field goal, or get a sack to knock them back.
“I thought our guys executed to a T. The D-line expended a lot of energy and it’s frustrating (getting to Gordon), but I thought they did a great job.”
Petersen had to make a change to get to 7-5. Leach stayed with what he knew and is 6-6, embarrassing himself and the program by hurling insults at outsiders. Nasty things? Seven losses in a row to the arch-rival is a nasty thing.
As Harris put it, “Nobody in that (Huskies) locker room has lost to the Cougars.”
As long as Leach puts more passion into grudges than the gridiron, it will stay that way.