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One Bad Mike Leach Coaching Decision Helped Spark Washington State's Meltdown Against UCLA

HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 13: Head coach Mike Leach of the Washington State Cougars questions a penalty with had linesman Jon Stablie during the second quarter against the Houston Cougars during the Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium on September 13, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

It takes a special kind of collapse to lose a game in which your quarterback throws nine touchdown passes, but somehow the Washington State Cougars pulled that off Saturday night in losing 67-63 to UCLA, and in so doing, falling victim to the third-largest comeback in NCAA FBS history.

Mike Leach was candid after his team stepped off their home field last night: “We collapsed in every phase of the game: offense, defense and special teams. Every phase."

You forgot one thing, Mike. Coaching.

Yes, the Bruins deserve to celebrate their victory. It not only saved their season, it may have saved coach Chip Kelly's job, at least for the time being. But an even greater share of the credit for the result belongs to Mike Leach's squad for their hideous, hideous collapse.

The offense fumbled four times and lost all four to the Bruins, including the decisive fumble by quarterback Anthony Gordon with a minute and a half to play. The Cougar defense seemingly forgot how to tackle or cover passes, and late in the third quarter, UCLA scored a frightening 28 points in just over four minutes.

Leach himself seemed to feel the pinch around his neck. During a Washington State drive in the middle of that UCLA run, one of his coaching decisions may have tilted the game's momentum dramatically in the Bruins' favor for good.

By then, UCLA had cut the lead to 49-31, and the game was still in Washington State's control. All the Cougars offense needed was one more score - even a field goal - to re-establish their dominance. The drive stalled with a fourth-and-4 at the UCLA 43, and Leach, having run out of patience, decided to go for it.

But at the last second, Leach got cold feet and called a timeout, sending for the punt unit instead.

What Leach would have done with that fourth-down call if he had gone for it is anyone's guess, but his decision to chicken out after he had already made the call to go for it sent a clear message to both sides that he had lost faith in his own team to get the job done - a moment of weakness that Chip Kelly and UCLA, much to their credit, pounced on. It was also a foolish decision on Leach's part, because it also meant entrusting the game to a defense that had just given up 14 points on two quick touchdown drives instead of taking a chance with a quarterback that had already thrown seven touchdown passes.

Both Leach and Washington State paid the price for his lack of faith.