SEATTLE – As far as the Cougars are concerned, their season is simply not going to end with a disappointing 27-17 Apple Cup loss on the banks of Lake Washington. They’re thinking Dallas, Albuquerque, or maybe Detroit. And they just may get their wish. Especially when it comes to New Mexico ...
Sources close to the situation told CF.C after the Apple Cup that Washington State was receiving “very positive feedback” from the New Mexico Bowl.
The New Mexico Bowl receives the No. 7 pick of Pac-12 bowl teams. But that doesn't always correspond to the seventh-place finishing team. Indeed, finishing order actually takes a back seat for most bowls.
One of the big draws for the Albuquerque-based New Mexico bowl is that organizers feel Mike Leach will draw an additional 1,500-2,000 fans from the Texas area – in addition to the Cougar faithful from the Evergreen State and elsewhere.
And bowl organizers look at the number of fans who will travel to a bowl far, far more than finishing order.
WHETHER THE COUGS end up in Albuquerque on Dec. 21, or somewhere else, Leach firmly believes the Cougars deserve a trip to the postseason for the first time in a decade.
“There’s no question we ought to go to a bowl game,” he said in a postgame interview after the Cougars’ loss, which he called a “great effort”.
Senior cornerback Nolan Washington said that it was especially painful to not win his final Apple Cup – but that he was optimistic that they would have one more game to play.
“This is my last one,” he said. “I really wanted this one, and to lose to them, it really hurts.”
Asked whether he had a bowl preference, Washington was emphatic that location doesn’t matter.
“Not ever having gone to one,” he said, “I’ll take any one.”
WSU was eligible for a bowl in 2006 at 6-6 but was left home for the holidays.
Junior quarterback Connor Halliday said that it is frustrating to go home to Pullman not knowing whether they will receive a bowl berth.
"You definitely want to take it out of chance's hand, but we weren't able to do that. We'll see what happens."
Senior center Elliott Bosch said that the team is going to “hope for the best.”
“I’m going to stay positive,” he said. “I hope we can get back to work and put this one behind us.”
DESPITE THEIR FATE being uncertain, Leach said the team will return to business as usual next week.
“You have to keep improving every time you play,” he said. “In practice, you have an opportunity to improve. That’s what I think as a team we have done a really good job of in the last three weeks, including this one, and I think we need to keep doing that.
“If every one of our guys is one play better, this is a different game. Working down the road, if we’re three plays better, that’s significant.”
The players, in turn, credited Leach for what Halliday called a change in culture.
“We definitely took a step forward,” he said of this season, in which the Cougars doubled their win total from Leach's first year (3-9). “The biggest thing would be our mentality.
“I know everyone in that locker room is hurting right now, just as much as I was. I don’t think that would have been the case last year or two years ago.”
Washington felt similarly.
“It’s light years away from when I first came here to now,” he said. “They’re going to keep winning. Coach Leach is running a real great program (and) it’s only going to go up from here.”
WSU SENIOR LINEBACKER Justin Sagote said that the Cougars knew they were getting to Husky quarterback Keith Price in the first half.
“There was one time we were rushing and he was looking and I heard him say, ‘Oh man, oh man,’ so I guess he felt uncomfortable,” he said of Price, who tallied an interception and a fumble before halftime. “There were times he was looking for ways to run.”
Still, Sagote said, they faced a very different Price on Friday than a year ago.
“It was way different,” he said. “He would take hits and stuff (in 2012), but this time, he slides every time he runs.”
Halliday's 282 passing yards give him 4,187 for the season, breaking Ryan Leaf’s record of 3,968 set in 1997, the third-most in Pac-12 history.
Halliday has 28 touchdown passes this season with the addition of two on Friday, the second-most in WSU single-season history, tying Jason Gesser. Halliday now has 52 career touchdown passes, the fifth-most in school history, and has completed 412 passes this season, the most in Pac-12 and WSU single-season history.
Deone Bucannon made seven tackles, boosting his season total to 109, the most since James Darling’s 136 in 1996. His career total is 379, the fourth-most in school history.
Sagote matched a career high with 13 tackles for the third straight game.
Andrew Furney’s 49-yard field to upped his career total to 46, the third-most in school history.
Gabe Marks caught four passes to up his season total to 69, the fourth-most in WSU single-season history.
WSU’s 13-play, 91-yard scoring drive in the second quarter was the longest of the season for a touchdown-scoring drive. It was the second-longest overall drive of the season after a 92-yard drive at California.