It is no coincidence that the Washington State Cougars are playing their best ball on the road. It’s frustrating for us as fans, but it’s not a mistake and there is an explanation. Actually, there are a couple.
First, the coaching staff’s decision to isolate the team in Lewiston for the first 10 days of Fall practice was something that ended up pretty special. The team responded with an unbelievable start to their Fall camp. It was by design that the team have to go out and play for each other. It was by design that they feed off of each other to create their own emotion. The goal was to get these guys to trust and bond with each other for the early road schedule, it worked.
Games against Auburn, USC and Cal, in all of them WSU played fearless, trusting football. They weren’t always in the right spots but they played with confidence in the system. Remember when they left Lewiston and came back home, they didn’t practice well for two or three days. Being uncomfortable inspired work ethic, which parlayed into a certain comfort. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the team so far just feels more “at home” on the road.
The other reason I see is that it looks like they are much more at ease while playing without the pressure of being at home. The crowd can be a huge asset, but it can also be your worst enemy if they turn on you, and quite frankly Coug fans do this far too easily. We’re so used to losing that we almost expect it. Then when a couple things go wrong we fall apart as much as our players do. The exception to this is against Washington, because our disdain for them is far worse than our disdain for our mistakes.
Getting boo’d by friends is a lot more difficult to stomach than being boo’d by the enemy. Actually, getting boo’d on the road can be a rallying cry, it can downright fuel your emotion. In other words, playing to shut somebody up can be far more powerful than playing to earn the cheers.
Our friend Nick was in the student section this past Saturday and said that every bad play by Connor Halliday in the 4th was met with jeers and chants for the “next guy up” (who is in this case Austin Apodaca). It was apparent that C.H. felt the pressure to perform and tried to take it upon himself to make a 7, then 14, then 21 point play. He lost himself in trying to please his friends and we as Cougar fans are partially to blame for that. That hasn’t happened on the road, it really didn’t even happen in Seattle, he played within himself.
Those are the main things that I see, but one thing is for sure, as much as I hate that we have to go to Autzen, I really think the Cougs will shock the nation with how they perform. Am I saying they’ll win? No, not necessarily. I’m simply saying that I feel really good about how they’ll play on the road. They haven’t disappointed so far, but then again, they haven’t been worried about disappointing, which is part of it all.