PULLMAN, Wash. -- There were familiar words coming from Washington State coach Mike Leach and his players on Saturday night -- “we should’ve,” “we would’ve” -- as they sat through postgame press conferences after losing to No. 8 Stanford, 30-28.
“We didn’t execute as well as we should’ve and we didn’t protect as well as we should’ve,” Leach said. “We should’ve scored touchdowns in the red zone.”
“If we did our jobs, we would’ve been fine,” quarterback Luke Falk said. “We’re going to look back on tape and see we had a lot of opportunities to win this game.”
“We would’ve loved to have this win,” linebacker Jeremiah Allison said.
But they didn’t.
The defense didn’t execute and protect as well against Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan. The senior -- who’s not known for his mobility -- broke off two big third-quarter runs, a 39-yarder and a 59-yard touchdown scamper, to help trim the Cougars’ nine-point halftime lead to just two points heading into the fourth quarter.
The offense didn’t score touchdowns in the red zone in the first half (it didn’t even account for positive yardage until the second quarter). The Cougars punted on their first three drives and then settled for field goals on their next four scoring drives. They didn’t reach the end zone until midway through the third quarter.
The Cougars didn’t win. That part isn’t new. In Leach’s first three seasons the Cougars are 7-20 in conference play and 2-10 against top-25 opponents.
The “would’ves” and the “could’ves” aren’t new to Washington State. Those words have been commonplace in Pullman during the team's long-standing tenure as a Pac-12 bottom-dweller.
But there was a level of anger and disappointment in the room when those words were uttered, and the feeling of an opportunity missed.
A win would’ve meant bowl eligibility. It would’ve been the biggest upset the Cougars have had in decades. It would’ve been validation for this team that it has taken a step forward after stumbling out of the starting blocks.
It would’ve been all of those things. And instead, it was none of them.
When Falk said that the team would’ve been fine had they all done their jobs, he was being honest. Had a few more Cougars done their jobs on a few more plays, Washington State would’ve been fine.
Their frustration isn't feigned, and their anger with little mistakes that had a big impact on the outcome wasn't a far-flung delirium that the Cougars suffered after the game. Washington State could've won that game. And there was no way to hide that.
Leach didn't try. He sat at the table, fielding questions from the media. He cut some off and demanded -- as he does of his players -- that the media hurry up. He was irate. When Falk came out to speak, he seemed numb but well-spoken. Even as a sophomore he is accustomed to this back-and-forth about why the Cougars lost and what it all means. But it was wide receiver Gabe Marks who's anger bubbled up in the truest of sentiments before he stomped back to the locker room.
“We lost,” Marks said, stone-faced. “No one is praising anyone. So don’t ask us questions about who’s praising whom. Because we should’ve won.”
And for the first time in along time, the Cougars actually believe that. And they should.