Why Do We Fall?

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“So we can learn to pick ourselves back up again.”

Good morning Cougs (and I say good morning, not because it IS a good morning but because I wish it was).  We can dispense with the pleasantries today for obvious reasons – yesterday’s loss was an all-timer, wasn’t it?  I have been a Coug fan since watching Mark Rypien run the Jim Walden offense back in the day, even saw an Apple Cup at Joe Albi if you can believe it as a really young kid.  But I never was a die hard until 1988 or 1989, somewhere in there.  That’s when I fell hard, not just because I was a student at WSU in the fall of ’89 but I just loved the crimson and gray for everything that it represents.  We are the underdogs of underdogs, the school in the middle of nowhere where half the population questions why anyone would ever consider going to a school like that!?  But if you’ve gone to school there, if you have been part of the Coug family, you understand what it all means.  

Anyway, that was a tough one, in a long history of tough ones.  I was trying to think back last night to some of the worst losses I’ve ever seen, and there are some uglies on the list – 18-17 vs USC in 1989, when Marinovich converts the two-pt conversion; the ’02 Apple Cup on the backwards pass that I’m still not over; the ’03 Apple Cup when Josh Swogger was throwing wild interceptions and we turned it over a billion times, costing us a BCS bowl bid in the process (NOTE – did you know that if WSU won the ’03 Apple Cup, we could have gone to another BCS bowl??  The way the BCS ratings were for that week, WSU would have been ranked in the top 8 with a 10-2 record, and would have been in line for a BCS bowl).  I could go on, because there are many more.  But this one has to rank up there because not just the fact we blew a 31-14 fourth quarter lead, but all the circumstances surrounding it:

1) A CU team that was the laughing stock of the conference at the time, a team that was down 55-7 at the half the last game vs. Fresno State; 2) a game that all the WSU dorks like me felt like this was one the Cougs “had to get”, as a large double-digit home field favorite but also how the rest of the season schedule was lining up.  It felt like if there was any hope for 2012 and postseason play, this was one of those games you just circle as one you have to get.  And of course, they didn’t.

It’s easy to want to play the blame game right now, and yesterday there was a hell of a lot of that going on.  Any other blog or message board was full of anger and raw emotion about what had just happened, and it’s totally understandable.  The closer you are to something, the worse it feels, and after blowing a game like that the emotions are always at their highest.  

But today is a new day, full of new things to ponder and think about.  My wife and I are training for the Seattle half-marathon at the end of November, and while we are only starting our fourth week of training, our runs are getting to be longer in our training program.  Today for example was a 5.75 mile run, so, it gave me time to think about things this morning in the suddenly-cool, crisp sunny weather as we ventured out into the streets (anyone notice how quickly fall has arrived since 9/21!?).  And you know what?  As bad as it all feels right now, it’s REALLY NOT THAT BAD, BUT THINGS HAVE TO CHANGE!  Here are some rambling, post-jog thoughts that raced through my head this morning…..

1) Is it Leach’s fault?  Well, yes, some of it is.  The fourth quarter decisions were puzzling while they were happening, and I was left wondering what in the world we were doing.  Throwing it deep with a shrinking lead in the waning minutes of the game doesn’t come out of coaching 101, am I right?  And going for it in easy field goal range on 4th down, only to throw an INT, was like “????”.  I was like many others out there asking why in the world we didn’t just run it, milk some clock and leave a suddenly clicking CU offense less time to do anything.  But you know what?  That’s simply not who Mike Leach is.  

It’s been written about in his book and talked about ad nauseum, but Mike Leach is not conventional (this just in, right??).  He’s an out of the box thinker who will do some out of the box things, and we are still getting to know this guy.  The folks at Texas Tech will tell you that for all the great things he accomplished there, there are those maddening moments where he decides to go for it on 4th and 3 from his own 28, which goes against every sense of conventional wisdom in your own body that might exist for coaching football and calling a game on offense.  But if we know anything about Mike Leach, we just have to accept that this is who he is.  Waning moments of a game and we need a first down?  Don’t look for three yards and a cloud of dust, student-body-style, because it just isn’t what he is going to do and it isn’t who he is or what he’s trying to accomplish.  He is always in that mindest of attack, attack, attack, and his approach is get first downs, not milk clock.  There is beauty in that approach when it works, and there is horror when it doesn’t.  

2) Is it Wulff’s fault?  Well, yes, some of it is.  Wulff failed on the field, 9-40 and all that.  But he also failed in recruiting some key positions that can be the lifeblood of your program, mainly the offensive and defensive lines.  You can go back and look, but I would say in all four years under Paul Wulff, there are MAYBE a handful of offensive and defensive linemen – COMBINED - that could start for another Pac-12 school.  I think David Gonzales, John Fullington, Wade Jacobson and BJ Guerra might have started at another school, but that’s it from the O-line.  And the D-line?  Obviously Travis Long, who is now a linebacker and has become our best defensive player since Mkristo Bruce in regards to rushing the passer, and probably Brandon Rankin if allowed to play at d-end instead of the converted d-tackle that they tried to make him.  But please, name me another player up front under Wulff’s watch who could start for another team in this conference?? 

But it isn’t just there.  Have you seen how poorly the secondary has been playing this year?  All I’ve seen are corners getting beat all over the field and safeties playing either out of control or way out of position, blowing coverages and missing tackles left and right.  And yet these are all upperclassmen in the secondary!?!?  Coming in to the season, one could look at things on paper and say yeah, the d-line and even the front seven looks suspect, but the secondary looks good enough with a decent amount of game experience.  But what have we seen so far?  I think we can all say we have been pleasantly surprised by how the front seven has played, I mean they aren’t world beaters but they have improved tremendously in rushing the passer this year, already at the number of sacks they had in all of 2011 as a defense!  But the secondary has just been a nightmare, a complete mystery of how badly they have played.  Daniel Simmons deserves praise for his game yesterday as he seemed to tackle well and had a really nice sideline interception.  But collectively as a group they are just not getting anything done.

For example, did you watch the long tight end TD catch that gave CU back a ton of momentum in the fourth quarter?  Did you notice that we dropped EIGHT guys into coverage, only rushed three, and yet the tight end caught the ball with nobody within 10-15 yards of him?  Just a complete blown assignment in every way, shape and form, and totally unacceptable on every level.

And can we please get past the “Oh yeah, well WULFF BEAT COLORADO LAST YEAR!  LEACH SUCKS THEN, RIGHT!?!”  That’ ridiculous.  Colorado blew that game last year, pure and simple.  They are the ones who had a 10-point lead at home with four minutes to go and couldn’t close us out.  They are the ones who had two huge mistakes in the secondary that led to TD passes from Marshall Lobbestael, including the last one where nobody was within 15 yards of Marquess Wilson.  But they were down to 4th string corners and converted running backs playing in the secondary in that game last year, so they were bound to screw it up.  They were the ones who could have run out the clock but instead called a rollout pass that went out of bounds on third down, giving the WSU offense the ball back and stopping the clock.  And of course Marquess and Lobbestael took advantage in the end, but CU’s eff-ups had a LOT to do with it!  And we only won one more game the rest of that season anyway, to a team in ASU in the cold in November and they had quit on Dennis Erickson.  Yes we took Utah to overtime, but we still lost.  And that same Utah team went out and lost the next week to Colorado, so were they even that good??

3) Is it the fault of the players?  Well, yes, some of it is.  There are still far too many mistakes that are happening out there.  As Leach has been saying for now-four weeks into the season, we make a good-to-great play, then follow it up with some down moments with penalties, dropped passes, missed assignments, etc.  And is it Leach’s fault that Marquess Wilson and others keep dropping first downs and touchdowns?  What, are they glancing over at the sideline before the ball hits their hands, sees that it’s Mike Leach wearing the headset and not Paul Wulff, and then decide to drop the ball!?!?  And like Leach says, when we get up with a nice lead, we’re too busy jacking around watching the scoreboard, waiting for the game to end (28-10 over UNLV, 31-14 yesterday).  And while the young excuse probably isn’t the best one to make for all of these guys, still, there is a lot of inexperience out there on the field in key spots that they are counting on.  We started six frosh yesterday, and with youth and inexperience just comes mistakes and inconsistency.  And Connor Halliday feels like he has been around a while, but that was only his third career start.  He said himself in an interview last week that Leach puts a ton of responsibility on the shoulders of his QB and wide receivers to make the right decisions, see the same things and all be on the same page.  Halliday even said that any given play, there are five different reads he has to make and he has very little time to make the reads, all the while hoping the WR’s read the same thing!  When you are new to a scheme like that, simplistic yet also incredibly prone to overthinking the moment, shouldn’t we expect some bouts of inconsistency?

The thing is, Halliday had moments of borderline-greatness yesterday with some stretches of play, where there were a few possessions that he just made it all look really really easy with how quickly he made decisions and threw strikes all over the field.  It was at times a beautiful thing to watch, and the young guys like Isiah Meyers and Gabe Marks were wonderful to see making plays all over the field.  But Halliday also makes the mistakes of a young gunslinger, constantly attacking down field when other things might be available to him underneath, and/or forcing balls into coverage that he just shouldn’t do.  But a lot of that comes with the lack of reps he’s actually had in this offense if you really want to look at it that way.  Per Brian Floyd at halftime of the BYU game, for all the people calling for Halliday at that time, it was out of the question because of the lack of reps he even had with the 1′s.  We have to remember that all the reports were that Jeff Tuel all August took the vast majority of the snaps as the starter with the one’s, and that’s reality.  Halliday has been the starter for all of two weeks this year, and he’s going to make mistakes as they still continue to try and get on the same page and understand what they need to do, all in a few seconds per play.

I look at it this way – at some point, you are going to FALL.  We all do it in every walk of life.  But it’s how you recover from falling, that failure, that defines not just football players or coaches, but for all of us.  How do they respond from this?  How do YOU respond when you fall?  What happens next will define them as a football player, a football team, and what you do after a failure in your life defines you and whatever it is that, well, you do.  We can all sit in the corner and throw the world’s biggest pity-party while we suck our thumbs and wish it was all better, or we can learn to pick ourselves up again and fight even harder than before.  

I think one of the biggest issues they are dealing with right now is the recent past of successive failures as a football team.  Four years of losing just doesn’t get magically washed away because we hired the pirate.  Four years of getting beat repeatedly has allowed a culture of losing efforts to be acceptable.  Part of the time Wulff would simply blame Bill Doba for his failure and for leaving Wulff the biggest shit sandwich in the world for when he took over.  But that still doesn’t explain how his team was still a loser after four full years under his watch, and still has an “it’s OK to lose” mentality among many upperclassmen not named Travis Long right now!  But Leach’s track record speaks for itself, I mean you can poke holes in it all you want but at the end of the day we’re talking about an incredibly successful coach in a very difficult, competitive business.

And like it or not (and some of you hated it), but Leach dumped some of the bad apples that Wulff brought in.  CJ Mizell had a horrible attitude and thought he could coast, but they pulled the plug there.  Sekope Kaufusi thought he could smoke weed and nobody would give a damn, but obviously he was wrong.  And Anthony Laurenzi thought he could rip off some headphones from Walmart, and we all know how that turned out.  Those three guys, their actions showed that they had a loser mentality and that it was OK to eff up, yet somehow it will all work out, right??  Maybe under the past regime the “Unity Council” would decide a few game suspensions here or there would be the way to go, but not with this new staff.

You know, there was a stat that I found before the BYU game in regards to new coaches taking over programs with a losing record and how they did in their first year as the new guy in the Pac-10/12.  The last head coach in this conference who actually had a winning record his first year after taking over a loser was Jeff Tedford at Cal, as they went from 1-10 in 2001 to 7-5 in 2002.  And since 1960, in the Pac-10 (now Pac-12), 32 times a team has changed coaches after a losing season.  And how did the new coach do the following year, with all the new rules and schemes and such?  Well, only FIVES TIMES did the team that switched coaches after the losing season actually roll out a winning season with the new coach the following year!  So that means the new coaches went 5-27 in regards to winning/losing seasons as the new breath of “fresh air”.  

So knowing all that, knowing how we were starting over on defense and had lost some key WR’s like Jared Karstetter and Isiah Barton from last year’s team, we still had the expectation that we were going to be a winning team this year and get back to a bowl?  Remember the predictions before the BYU game?  Seems like many of us were convinced we were going to run BYU off the field, yet we got steamrolled by a bigger, stronger team that was more poised and under control in every way.  But it’s crazy to look back at how we felt a month ago compared to where things are today (and I don’t even want to listen to some of our preseason podcasts!  Yikes!).

I don’t know if you caught Leach’s post-game comments from Christian Caple, but I would encourage you all to check them out.  They are long and they are passionate, from a guy who definitely cares about what the hell is going on.  And he’s right.  They have to change the mentality, as coaches and players, to simply not accept defeat.  There has been too much of that going on and enough is enough.  Whether this is the turning point or not, we’re going to have to see as things go forward, but there is a program-wide mentality they have to change.

And by the way, I don’t know who the author is who put up the “Mike Least” post from yesterday.  We don’t have anyone here who goes by the name “WHOCARESANYMORE”, but clearly whoever wrote that not only doesn’t care anymore but he doesn’t need to write here anymore.  If you don’t care, what’s the point of even writing?  And if you are going to hammer the coach, at least have the balls to put your name next to it.

Enjoy your Sunday, and GO COUGS.

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