The losses to Stanford and Oregon State were made worse by the manner in which both games got out of hand so quickly.
"You've got to play a game 60 minutes, and there's going to be adversity in games," said Cougars head coach Mike Leach.
The Cougars have shown the ability to step up and punch an opponent, but the counterpunches have been of the knockout variety.
Down 17-3 early in the third quarter against the Cardinal, the WSU defense forced a stop and looked poised to make a game of it. But in the span of four minutes, Stanford returned two interceptions for touchdowns and scored on a 45-yard pass, casting the Cougars aside in less time than it took WSU to complete its first scoring drive.
A similar tale played out against the Beavers last week. Tied entering the fourth quarter, the game was a 45-24 rout before five minutes had passed off the clock. Turnovers by the offense gave OSU prime field position and the defense was unable to flip the script.
"We feed off each other to where if one side struggles, the other side collapses," Leach said. "We've got to quit waiting for somebody else to make a play ... In both of those cases we've created our own adversity."
Sandwiched between those two lopsided losses was a counterpoint game. After surging to an early lead against Cal on the road, the Cougars gave up a pair of touchdowns.
The Cougars offense followed its first two scores with a punt, a safety taken, an interception, a punt, and a missed field goal. Rather than wilt, the Cougars pushed back. They took control of the game and walked out of Berkeley with a 44-22 win.
"We decided that game to actually come together, just settle down and forget everything that happened and make a play," linebacker Darryl Monroe said. "Once we started doing that, when things got out of control and didn't go our way we started to turn the table and get turnovers, force three-and-outs and whatnot."
As the OSU debacle illustrated, responding to adversity against an outmatched opponent pales to the challenge of doing it against a peer. The Cougars are done with their easy games. The second half of WSU's schedule is its toughest, and WSU won't be able to win any more games by merely overpowering opponents.
"I just think we have to keep playing, it's as simple as that," Leach said. "There's no magic formula."
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