Cougin’ It isn’t just about failing when success looks like it’s in the bag, like failing a job interview you expected to ace. It’s taking an active hand in your own failure. You’re crushing said interview into its final moments before launching into an ill-advised list of websites you like to browse when you’re supposed to be working. You intended it as a joke, but before long you find yourself, somehow, turning this spiel into a defense of your work ethic. You aren’t sure what happened, but it’s all gone so terribly wrong and before you know it, the frosty handshake you receive at the end lets you know you’ve blown it.
A momentous event occurred in college football on Saturday night, when the Washington State Cougars gave up a 32-point lead to the visiting UCLA Bruins, losing by a score of 67-63. Folks, we present not only an instant classic Cougin’ It game. We present the Coug de grâce.
We’ve had the pleasure of witnessing several examples of Washington State blowing football games with panache most other teams could only dream of. In the 2013 New Mexico Bowl, an implosion similar to this past weekend’s Coug special, Wazzu fumbled twice against Colorado State when they simply needed to run out the clock, turning a 45-30 lead into a loss by giving up three scores in the final three minutes. In a 2014 matchup against Cal, our heroes scored 59 points and took an 11 point lead into the 4th quarter, but gave up 60 points and missed a 19-yard field goal (never kick, always just score the touchdown) at the end to secure the defeat.
We could go on, but you get the idea. To have Coug’d It, you can’t just simply lose to Eastern Washington and Portland State in consecutive season openers (although they’ve also pulled off that feat in the Leach era). It’s football as tragic performance art, finding ways to lose even when you’ve built an enormous lead and viewers all agree that you’ve got this win wrapped up. “There’s no way they can lose this one,” are the words you must hear for a game to be Coug’d. Because, guess what, they can. Like Picasso in front of a canvas, they will paint their way to a loss that confounds and delights.
Enter UCLA, coming in 0-3 with 14 points scored in each of its three increasingly miserable prior performances. Chip Kelly, he of the innovative Oregon offense that nearly led to a shock national title, appeared almost disinterested in the proceedings of every game. He looked seemingly content to see out his golden years in the warm environs of Los Angeles, pretending to care about football. His team had spent the season as bland and unappealing as lukewarm porridge.
Long story short, UCLA sucks and was extremely boring and punchless. So when they took an early 7-0 lead following an interception of Wazzu quarterback Anthony Gordon, it seemed cute. Even at the end of the first quarter, with UCLA holding a surprising 10-7 lead, it was hard to believe that sort of thing could hold up.
It did not. In fact, Washington State would score six of the game’s next seven touchdowns, with the only UCLA score coming on a kick return.
This takes us all the way through to seven minutes left in the third quarter. The score is 49-17, Washington State. Using analytics, we can tell you that the Cougars had a 32-point lead and there were just 22 minutes of game time left. The ESPN broadcasters needed all the Gardner Minshew-in-jorts material they could find to sustain themselves while sitting through the remainder of this one.
Or so they thought.
The ESPN win probability widget gave the Cougars a 99.9% chance of winning the game. That seemed fair!
To this point, UCLA’s offense had thrown an interception, punted five times and scored one touchdown (off a short field) and a field goal. No way WSU blow this huge lead to this lousy team, right?
Now things happen fast. The Bruins score on a long drive with four minutes remaining in the third. 49-24. The next three WSU drives: fumble, punt, fumble. That’s some high quality Cougin’ It. The only way UCLA can get back into this game is if Washington State gives them the ball back as quickly as possible, so the Cougars oblige. The Bruins take just over four minutes of game time to score touchdowns on all three of their next drives, and it’s now 49-46 with essentially the entire fourth quarter to go. Things happened so rapidly that you could actually hear the collective butt clenching at Martin Stadium.
When UCLA runs back a punt for seven, their second return touchdown of the game, they take a 60-56 lead. Now, no Cougin’ It game is without its moment where it looks like the Cougars might escape with victory despite everything. WSU provides that moment, scoring to retake the lead and then holding UCLA on downs after the Bruins laboriously shuffle down the field.
There’s 2:38 left. UCLA has two timeouts, but as long as Wazzu can get a first down or two, they can safely kneel out the clock.
Of course, they don’t do this. They need to manifest their destiny. They need to complete this masterpiece of a blown game.
They fumble on the very first play. When you’re busy with the work of losing games, it’s good to move quickly. UCLA scores with 1:07 left to go ahead 67-63. To win the game, Gordon is going to need to throw his tenth touchdown pass. Instead he is hit from behind on the first play of the ensuing drive, and — say it with me now — fumbles. UCLA picks it up, kneels, and wins.
To recap: WSU blows a 32-point lead it held deep into the third quarter, fumbles four times and allows 50 points in the second half in order to do so, and becomes the first Pac-12/10/8 team to lose a game while scoring 60+ points since at least 1960. Their quarterback threw nine touchdown passes in a losing effort.
After the game, Kelly made reference to this being a “Pac-12 After Dark” game. That may be, but it was also one of the greatest examples of Cougin’ It in history. We know that the best part about Cougin’ It is that Wazzu tries to outdo itself with the following instance. We look forward to seeing what they do next.