Guaranteeing victory is one thing. But nobody in the Washington State or Oregon State programs is going to spell out one obvious fact: Tonight’s game is critical to their bowl hopes.
Technically, the Cougars and Beavers need only one win in their final two games to reach the six-victory minimum for bowl eligibility.
But Oregon State’s final contest will be against Oregon, which is undefeated. The Cougars’ finale will be at Washington, where they haven’t won since 2007 and whose Huskies have ruled six consecutive Apple Cups.
So both teams will be privately thinking “must-win situation” when they clash in a Pac-12 game at 6 p.m. (Pac-12 Network) as the Cougs celebrate senior night at Martin Stadium.
Among the players to be recognized is the late Tyler Hilinski, the WSU quarterback who committed suicide in January 2018 and would have been a fifth-year senior this season. On hand will be his parents, Kym and Mark Hilinski, whose youngest son, Ryan, the starting quarterback at South Carolina, has a bye this week.
While the Cougars (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) try to extend to five their streak of consecutive bowl berths, Oregon State (5-5, 4-3) is looking for its first postseason bid since 2013.
Wazzu sophomore running back Max Borghi kicked off preparation for the Oregon State game with an impromptu victory guarantee last week after the Cougars’ 49-22 home win against Stanford.
“A win feels great,” he said. “We’ve just got to carry it into next week and have a great week of practice and prepare for Oregon State, because we’re going bowling. Guarantee on that, because we’re going to win next week.”
Traditionally, a statement like that would find its way to the opponent’s bulletin board. Oregon State coach Jonathan Smith didn’t wholly quash that notion.
“We don’t take them ultra-seriously,” he said of win guarantees. “I just don’t think we need added motivation for this game. We really don’t. And I’ve got actually a bunch of respect for (Borghi) because he’s a good player. But I don’t think that’s a huge factor in this thing. We won’t deal a ton of mental energy with it.”
Translation: It’s on their bulletin board.
“It’s quite a Max statement,” WSU quarterback Anthony Gordon said. “But I support him, I’m behind him, and we’re going to do anything we can to get a win this week.”
Borghi’s statement came in the flush of an ultra-efficient performance last week by the Cougar offense, which scored on nine of 11 possessions and needed no punts. Wazzu’s heavily criticized defense also cleaned up its act in pivotal situations, allowing only eight second-half points.
“It was our biggest one-week improvement,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “We’ve just got to keep getting better. That’s the thing, try to improve each week, try not to let anything cloud your focus or your attention.”
Borghi also might have been thinking of the Cougars’ recent history of success against the Beavers. In beating them five straight years, they’ve racked up 27 touchdown passes against two interceptions.
But the Beavs have made big strides in Smith’s second year at the helm and have won three conference road games, getting increasingly solid play from a defense led by 6-foot-4 linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr., who leads the nation with 22½ tackles for loss.
Oregon State’s 6-7 quarterback, Jake Luton returns to the stadium where he suffered a season-ending spinal injury two years ago. He also was out of action last year in Oregon State’s 56-37 loss to the Cougs in Corvallis, Ore.
Martin Stadium isn’t likely to generate the level of noise that sometimes rattled Stanford’s offense last week. Students are heading into Thanksgiving break and many already have left campus.
To try to mitigate that factor, WSU is handing out a gift to the first 10,000 spectators, a Mike Leach bobblehead that, at the push of a button, utters a characteristic Leach remark.
Gordon, the national passing leader, is among 13 WSU seniors to be honored before their final home game. The others are Misi Aiolupotea-Pei, Brandon Arconado, Karson Block, Tristan Brock, Gage Gubrud, Fred Mauigoa, Nnamdi Oguayo, Dezmon Patmon, Marcus Strong, Trey Tinsley, Easop Winston Jr. and Robert Valencia. Another player listed as a senior, Calvin Jackson Jr., has appeared in fewer than five games and is therefore deemed a redshirt who will return next year.
Dale Grummert may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2290.