By Jim Moore
For most of the past five years, Cougar football has been hard to watch. Wins are rare, and blowouts with the good guys on top haven't happened at all.
That's why the 48-10 victory over Southern Utah at Martin Stadium on Saturday was an important step toward much better things ahead.
Maybe Southern Utah was overmatched. Maybe Southern Utah was terrible. But none of that matters – in the past, overmatched and seemingly terrible teams still were competitive against the Cougs.
Not this time.
Washington State's defense has allowed an average of 16 points over its first three games. (AP)
1. The Cougars are making progress.
To piggyback on the opening theme, if this game had been played last year or during the Paul Wulff era, it would have been much closer. The Cougs might have won, but they would've had to survive a Hail Mary to hold on.
It could have been a letdown spot, coming after the 10-7 stunner against USC last week, but Washington State came out with offensive intensity throughout the game, and its defense was particularly stout in the second half.
With this kind of effort and performance this Saturday against Idaho at Martin Stadium, the Cougars should come to CenturyLink Field with a realistic chance to beat fifth-ranked Stanford on Sept. 27.
2. Washington State's defense is for real.
After limiting USC to 193 yards, Washington State allowed only 219 yards to Southern Utah. Damante Horton had another pick six, and Deone Bucannon, solidifying his status as one of the Pac-12's top defensive backs, also had an interception. Freshman Daquawn Brown got his first career interception, and the defense overall had another impressive day.
This defense is flying around, playing fast and making plays. It's also showing some swagger. It's not the Palouse Posse just yet, but it could be one of Washington State's better defensive units in recent memory.
3. Andrew Furney is a terrific kicker.
If Dave Wyman were writing this piece, Furney would never be mentioned because he doesn't like kickers. But I do, and especially Furney, a happy-go-lucky kid from Burlington who is becoming one of the best kickers in Washington State history.
He went 2 for 2 against Southern Utah. His 46-yard field goal gave him a career percentage of .727 beyond 40 yards (16 for 22), which is better than any Cougar kicker ever, even Jason Hanson. Plus he's clutch, hitting the game-tying and game-winning field goals in the Apple Cup last year and the game-winner against USC this year.
After losing weight, he told Bud Withers of The Seattle Times that he didn't want to be remembered as "that fat kicker at Washington State." Now he's simply on his way to being remembered as one of the best.
Three things we're still trying to figure out:
1. Are the Cougars a bowl team?
More and more, they look like they could be. They should beat Idaho, and that would get them halfway to six wins. Looking at their schedule, there is only one game in which they don't have much of a chance – at Oregon on Oct. 19.
But the other seven Pac-12 games? They have a shot in every one of them, and all they have to do is go 3-4 in those to finish 6-6.
With that defense and a developing offense, they've got a good shot at appearing in their first bowl game since the 2003 Holiday Bowl.
2. Is Connor Halliday finally coming around?
After turning it over six times in the first two games, Halliday threw only one interception against Southern Utah, and apparently that was the receiver's fault for running the wrong route.
Halliday was 32 of 41 for 383 yards and five touchdowns against Southern Utah. If he can play mistake-free football and learn from the first two games, the Cougs could really have an extraordinary quarterback piloting the Air Raid attack.
3. Will Mike Leach ever smile?
Not that it's a big deal, but I'm just wondering what it will take to see a smile on the head coach's face. It didn't happen after the Apple Cup, didn't happen after the USC game, didn't happen on Saturday after the dominating win over Southern Utah.
I guess that's just the way he is. Maybe he's expecting these kinds of wins. But it's a happy turn of events for beaten-down Coug fans, now grinning from ear to ear.