Once again, it took an Apple Cup to get the Cougars to play well enough to win a game. In a game that was somewhat similar to the infamous 2008 Apple Cup in Paul Wulff's first year, the Cougars struggled through most of the game before staging a late rally and winning the game with special teams. Cougar fans will now have a long 10 months or so to try and figure out if Friday's win was truly a building block for a future, or just your standard, wild Apple Cup fare.
Regardless of what it ends up being, the Cougars rally was simply just a great sign that the Cougars do still have potential to progress with Mike Leach and that their furious rally against UCLA in Pullman a few weeks ago was not a fluke. The Cougars easily could have packed it in and not shown up on or given up when down by 18 in the fourth quarter and I believe that they would have if the abuse that Marquess Wilson is alleging against Mike Leach was true and if he had truly lost the team.
More than just showing that the Cougars had not quit, the game also proved that the Cougars offense under Mike Leach does put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses as the game progresses. Much like Oregon's perpetual running attack wears down defensive lines in the second half, the Cougars air raid appears to wear out defensive backs as they spend four quarters trying to keep up with the Cougar receivers. This was clear late in the games against UCLA and Washington when their defenses couldn't get off the field and let the Cougars back in the game by being unable to get them off the field and forcing them into pass interference penalties. The Cougars can become a team that no one in the Pac-12 wants to play if they can get the offense down and make defenses chase their bevy of skilled receivers up and down the field.
Cougar fans must also resist the temptation to get too far ahead of themselves though. Leach and the Cougars were still just a made 35-yard field goal from dropping a heartbreaker and finishing the season winless in the conference and losing nine-straight. The battle from here is going to be all uphill and while an Apple Cup comeback taste sweet, it can't mask the fact that the Cougars still finished dead last in the conference standings yet again and Leach will be under intense scrutiny until he can prove that he can win in Pullman and avoid being accused of abusing his players.
The problem is that the Cougars didn't need to prove that they can get up for an Apple Cup and compete with a heavily-favored Washington team. Everyone knows that they can do that. The Cougars future success doesn't rely on how well they can play in a rivalry game, it relies on how well they can play in games against teams like Colorado, Utah and Cal. If they had shown up the way they did on Friday in games like those, this Apple Cup win would mean a whole lot more.