Many consider that game to be the high-water mark for the WSU program, which of late has had a series of disastrous seasons through two coaching tenures following the departure of Mike Price in 2002. But with second-year head coach Mike Leach steering the ship, the Cougars are now in a position that has been elusive for many years, in that they are fighting for a bowl berth.
Currently sitting at 4-4 and coming off a bye week, the Cougs will face off against the Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday night in Pullman. ASU is currently sitting in first place in the Pac-12 South, adding an extra incentive for the Cougars to try and knock them from the pedestal. The game is also taking place on Halloween in Pullman, and will be broadcast live on ESPN.
Washington State University president Elson Floyd has already made the decision to cancel classes for Friday.
The fact that this is a critical game for both schools almost seems to come as an afterthought, as all of the variables seem to be adding up to the perfect storm.
Most likely, it will be on the back of quarterback Connor Halliday.
Halliday, coming off a record-setting appearance against Oregon, will have his hands full with an Arizona State defense that was able to put a stop to Washington and its touted offensive weapons, Keith Price and Bishop Sankey. Although he did throw for 557 yards and four touchdowns, he also threw four interceptions to bring his season total to 17.
Halliday has thrown an interception in every game this year. So will the excitement of a Halloween night, nationally-televised game wrack his nerves? Or can he come out and put on a gutsy performance, like he has before?
It also remains to be seen which WSU defense will show up? The version that held USC at bay for an entire game, or the one that was recently shredded by the likes of Oregon?
Defensive leader Deone Buccanon recently said that the recent defensive woes may have come about due to players trying to do too much, as opposed to behaving in a cohesive unit as they were earlier in the year.
"I feel early on, we had a lot of faith in each other," he said. "But kind of the middle of the season, a little bit got lost."
The bye week should help.
Some fuel for the Cougs will come in the form of trying to get revenge for last year's destruction of WSU by the Sun Devils, as ASU routed WSU 46-7 in Arizona. That, combined with the fact that the Cougars need two more wins to become bowl-eligible should lead to a much closer outcome than last year.
When the lights come on at Martin Stadium on Thursday, things should be at a fever pitch. For WSU, its bowl hopes will really hinge on which version of Connor Halliday takes the field and if its defensive unit can find its footing again.If WSU can regain its early-season form, the Cougars' dance with the Devils on Halloween should get them one step closer to a bowl game for the first time in 10 years.
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.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Washington State University
- Washington State