COMMENTARY | Last Saturday, Washington State was flying high, hanging tight with an Oregon State Beavers team with its nation-leading pass attack.
The Cougars were a one-point favorite over the visiting Beavers coming into the game, and were performing every bit as expected after a convincing win on the road at California a week before. When WSU ran out of the tunnel after halftime, the game was well within grasp.
Then the wheels fell off.
The Beavers lit up the Cougs in the second half, capitalizing on multiple interceptions by WSU quarterback Connor Halliday, and ran away with a 52-24 victory. Five consecutive turnovers led to Oregon State outscoring WSU 28-0 in the fourth quarter, and Halliday being benched in favor of backup quarterback Austin Apodaca.
Cougars head coach Mike Leach said he felt his team gave in. "We had adversity -- and it certainly wasn't just Connor -- I thought we came out storming in the third quarter. For two-thirds of the game we played about as well as we can play. And then the last third we faced adversity and waved the white flag."
For the second week in a row, Washington State was favored to win against a Pac-12 opponent, and one in its own division. So what went wrong? Was it a lack of confidence? Perhaps the Cougs were just in uncharted waters after several years of being on the receiving end of monumental beatdowns by inter-conference foes and lost their edge?
Linebacker Darryl Monroe said the nerves may have gotten to him and his teammates. But he wasn't the only one to shake it off and start looking ahead to a looming showdown with conference-juggernaut Oregon.
"Coming off this loss, we are more hungry and humbled," Monroe said.
A very humbling reminder of just how far the Cougars have to go before they're battling for the top of the Pac-12 North came when the line came out for Saturday's Oregon matchup.
So what is a positive that WSU can take from that? Well, for one, being the underdog is a position that the Cougs are used to being in. The California game was the first in recent memory that WSU has been favored against a conference opponent.
The Cougars have also been able to give Oregon a fight in recent years, including last year's matchup in Seattle.
Of course, this is Oregon we're talking about. Currently the nation's second-ranked team and boasting the country's top offense, there is plenty for Cougs fans to worry about.
Add to that, it seems the only hype surrounding Saturday's game seems to that Oregon will be wearing pink helmets to support the fight against breast cancer.
So with the spotlight off of them, and really with nothing to lose, the Cougars should embrace their role as the underdog. Like some well-known Cougs are saying, play like they have nothing to lose.
Some have even come up with foolproof reasons why WSU should come out of Eugene with a win.
After Saturday's absolute meltdown against Oregon State, WSU really couldn't ask for a tougher follow-up game than the Ducks. And, really, with no one expecting the Cougs to do much against Oregon, why not embrace the role of potential giant-killer and see what they can do?
Even when the going gets tough, as it almost surely will down in Autzen Stadium on Saturday, it really can't get any worse than the fourth quarter against OSU.Can it?
Sam Becker lives in Seattle and is a 2009 graduate of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. He has been a lifelong Cougar follower, and his writing has been published on numerous websites.
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