The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

COMMENTARY: The ever-disappointing endeavor of watching 2023 WSU football

Cougs losers of six straight
Redshirt+freshman+running+back+Djouvensky+Schlenbaker+stands+on+the+field+following+WSU+footballs+38-24+loss+to+Oregon.+Oct.+21.+2023+at+Autzen+Stadium+in+Eugene%2C+Oregon.
Sam Taylor
Redshirt freshman running back Djouvensky Schlenbaker stands on the field following WSU football’s 38-24 loss to Oregon. Oct. 21. 2023 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.

It does not need to be re-stated. But, it still is disappointing. The Cougs were No. 13 in the nation and 4-0, now, they are in dead last in the Pac-12 and are 4-6. 

But the best part of 4-6? The chance to go 5-6 baby. 

Maybe the only Bowl game that the team will play in 2023 is the losing streak bowl, a battle between the 11th and 12th place teams in the Pac-12, Colorado at Wazzu Friday night on national TV. 

For the first five of their losses, one of the two sides of the ball was the clear one to blame for each loss. An even blend of disappointing offensive and defensive performances. But against Cal, it really felt like both sides of the ball played poorly in the grand scheme of the game, despite the offense scoring 39 points. 

A 42-39 final score does not paint the full picture. Offense, defense, special teams, the refs, everything, everything went against the Cougs against Cal. 

“There’s extreme disappointment in this outcome. There’s extreme disappointment in this locker room, this coaching staff, this program,” head coach Jake Dickert said. “But, I love our fight.” 

At different points, WSU saw themselves down 14-0, then 28-14, then 42-24, it seemed like all was lost. While it ended close, the Cougs were unable to close out the comeback. 

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Yes, Cam Ward’s fumble seemed like a forward pass, why the refs did not review it? I don’t know, but yes it’s annoying. Also, yes, the quite clear faking of an injury should have 1) not negated the WSU gain since a whistle was not blown prior to the snap and 2) should have been a penalty for either unsportsmanlike conduct or 12 men on the field on Cal, but it was not called. 

You cannot change what the refs did; while yes, it may or may not have had an impact on the final score, it happened, and that cannot be changed. 

Now for what the Cougs could have changed and done better. First, the offense. 

The Cougs outgained Cal by over 150 yards, with over 200 more yards gained through the air. They had 32 first downs to Cal’s 16, they ran 40 more plays, they only punted it twice, were in the end zone six times and had double the big plays (16–8). That is a lot of good, plus they scored 39 points. It really seems like the offense did a good job.

But, it really was disappointing. As the aforementioned scorelines show, they were playing from behind most of the game. They converted just 33% of their third downs, specifically converting on just 20% of their third and short attempts. They fumbled the ball four, yes, four times and Ward threw an interception. 

Attempting an astonishing 60 passes, Ward completed just 58% of those passes, but he did throw three TDs. Freshman Leo Pulalalsi averaged 6.0 yards a rush and redshirt freshman Djouvensky Schlenbaker averaged 4.7 yards a carry, both good marks. Quite a shame the Cougs had to focus on the passing game while playing behind. Plus, Cal stuffed nine runs at the line of scrimmage, 25% of the running plays called by the Cougs. 

Making the defense job harder, the Cougs offense gave 14 points to Cal with two fumbles the Cal defense took back for scores. 

“We got to take care of the ball. If we don’t give [them] 14 points, we end up winning the game, so I take a lot of [the blame] on my shoulders,” Ward said. 

Even with that decidedly up-and-down performance from the offense, the defense also struggled. 

Cal’s rushing attack had their way against the Cougs, as the WSU defense stuffed the Golden Bears rushing attack just three times, 8% of the runs that Cal ran. Jaydn Ott ran the ball 27 times and gained 167 yards on the ground, punching the ball in the end zone one time. 

Playing from a disadvantage, the defense was unable to get stops when it mattered, until the very end. The last time the Cal offense scored was with 11:14 left in the fourth quarter, but by then they had already scored 28 points on the Cougs from offense, which is not enough to get the win unless the Cougs offense is up to speed (the entire game). 

Finally, at the third level, the special teams unit struggled as well. Dean Janikowski made his first field goal attempt, a third-quarter 28-yarder that cut the Cal lead down to 28-24. 

But the fourth quarter was a completely different story. First, he missed from 42 yards out with 12:56 left in the game. Looking for redemption, with under a minute left, Janikowski had the chance to tie the game to hopefully force OT. From 48 yards out, he missed again, sealing the loss for the Cougs. 

Even with the loss, there are still things that are positive about the game. At the end of the day, the team fought. Despite the circumstances of some bad calls and giving Cal free points, the Cougs fought, and they fought hard.

“I’m proud of our guy’s fight. We’re down 18 with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. There was no quit, there was a belief they kept fighting for it,” Dickert said.

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About the Contributors
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.
Sam Taylor, Evergreen sports co-editor
Sam is a senior multimedia journalism major from Lacey, Washington and the sports editor for spring 2024. He was the sports editor for the 2022-23 school year and managing editor for the summer and fall 2023. He plays the trumpet in the Cougar Marching Band, loves sports and has worked at the Evergreen since fall 2021.