The PAC-12 kicked off the bowl season with a dominating win and an agonizing loss.
In the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Mike Leach and Washington State had the ball first and ten with an 8-point lead on their own 31 with just over two minutes to play. Colorado State was out of time outs. All WSU had to do was take a knee four times and run out the clock.
Instead, the Cougs, who were -10 yards rushing on the day, handed off to running back Jeremy Laufasa off tackle, who got stripped. The Rams recovered and marched quickly for a score, then Donnell Alexander dove to the pylon for the two-point conversion and a tie at 45-45.
:33 seconds to play, and the Cougars had a couple of timeouts, a kicker with a good leg in Andrew Furney. Only the Cougs’ Teondray Caldwell fumbles the kickoff at his own 24. Colorado runs one play to center the football, spikes it, and Jared Roberts boots a 41-yard field goal for the win (Mark Rebilas USA Today Sports Images photo).
Washington State got six touchdown passes from Connor Halliday to six different receivers, They led 14-0, 35-13, and 35-23 at halftime. They led 45-30 to with 9:35 to play, fumbled twice in the last two minutes, and found a way to lose, a epic fail that Coug’d away a chance at the team’s first winning season in 10 years.
The phrase was applied to Oregon earlier in the year, but this is a loss that will set the WSU program back for years. At 7-6 with a bowl win, they could’ve looked back on this season with enthusiasm and a sense of pride and progress. Halliday, who tied a national record with 6 td passes in a bowl game, is a senior next year after throwing for 4,187 yards and 28 tds this season, four against the Ducks.
Instead, the stain of failure and that persistent verb, “Cougin’ it,” gets fresh life. It’s hard to escape the memes about your program if you keep reinforcing them.
Meanwhile, USC put on a display of power and explosiveness in muzzling Fresno State, 45-20. Nelson Agholar and Marqise Lee each had a pair of td receptions, and quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 344 yards and 4 scores. The defense held Derek Carr and FSU to 217 yards as the Trojans cap a season in which they had 3 different coaches by achieving their 10th win, 10-4 with a victory over #5 Stanford.
There will be a lot of optimism as Steve Sarkisian takes over, especially if Lee elects to return for his senior year.
The last game of the year is tremendously important for the development of a football team. It stays with you longer, becomes a starting point for next year. The Trojans begin a new era with an infusion of confidence and possibility. The Cougars get pulled back into old habits and frustrations.
Both games serve as a reminder to the Ducks to bring purpose and execution to the Alamo Bowl, and to keep their poise in the fourth quarter. A bowl game can be the beginning of a new era, or the end of one.