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October 31, 2012

WSU knows that there is no longer room for moral victories

With just four games left and sitting at the bottom of the Pac-12 North with a record of 2-6 (0-5), the Washington State Cougars must win-out to reach their first bowl game since 2003. Coming into the season, the splashy hire of Mike Leach led most to believe that this was a bowl-caliber team in their first season under the former Texas Tech head coach.

After all, Leach is in the peculiar position of being on the outside of the bowl picture looking in for the first time in 11 seasons as a head coach.

Whether those expectations were too lofty for a team witnessing a complete transition after a four-win campaign is up for discussion. Leach, however, shed light on his thoughts about the bowl-game expectations during his weekly press conference on Monday.

"Probably more than there should have been. The biggest thing is focusing on bowl games or finish lines, that's putting a whole lot ahead of things," Leach said. "What's happened recently to the positive is, as a team, we've embraced winning our individual battles, taking a lot of pride in each individual play, making the most of each individual play and practicing out there on the field."

There comes a time and place where this Washington State team needs to get over the hump of embracing moral victories and start getting upset about losses or better yet, get mad when they end up on the losing end. Senior Jeff Tuel feels like the Cougars are already at that point.

"We're kind of beyond the moral victory aspect of it," Tuel said. "Coach Leach has never said this is a moral victory because in his eyes, there's no such thing. A win is a win, and that's the only victory he knows is when we have more points than the opponent."

Travis Long has shared the same sentiment, further reinforcing the fact that this team is over the losses and that the moral victories are a thing of the past.

"Personally, that's what's been going on since I've been here is moral victories," Long said. "At some point, it's got to turn out in the win-loss column."

With that being said, the loss to Stanford was an improvement and by far the most complete game the Cougars have played this season, but a loss is a loss, and the team is still searching for their first conference win this season.

But, before people jump to irrational opinions about the current staff and their recent slide, there is still a faint light at the end of the tunnel - a tunnel that leads to bowl season; a season that has eluded the Cougars for the better part of nine years.

From here on out, the season is on the line. One more loss and the Cougars will officially be eliminated from bowl-contention for the ninth straight season. Tuel and company know this very well.

"We need to play with a sense of urgency," Tuel said. "It will be a letdown, a disappointment if we don't make that bowl game."

At this point in the season, there's no more room for celebrating minor improvements from week to week. If they win, they're still alive. If they lose, it becomes another long winter of wondering what could have been.

Mission number one: Utah.

On Saturday, the Cougars will look to begin something that they haven't done since 2003: win four games in a row. It's a tedious task, but something that is a real possibility.

With their bowl chances on life support, the Cougars travel to Salt Lake City to face the Utes (3-5, 1-4) at noon on the Pac-12 Networks.

"We've gotten better as a team but we need to keep getting better," Leach said.

They'll have to be at their best this Saturday against a Utah team that is playing for the same thing as WSU - keeping their season alive.



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