Breakout win over No. 5 USC puts 16th-ranked WSU Cougars in title talk

This wasn’t just the win of the season — it was the win of the Mike Leach era.

PULLMAN — They’re real.

For four quarters, the Cougars stood up to the presumed conference kings and sprung up every time they got knocked down. For 60 minutes, Washington State took licks from the team with the 13-game winning streak and counterpunched even harder.

This wasn’t just the win of the season — it was the win of the Mike Leach era. And not just because the Cougs beat a top-five team for the first time in 25 years, but because, in one game, they gave their identity a complete makeover.

“These are once-in-a-lifetime moments,” said WSU quarterback Luke Falk, whose team beat No. 5 USC 30-27 on ESPN. “I’m definitely going to enjoy it with teammates tonight. Couldn’t be more proud.”

Coming into Friday, 16th-ranked Wazzu (5-0) had never had a marquee win since Leach took over the program before the 2012 season. The Cougars lost three straight to Oregon when the Ducks were ranked second, fell to a fifth-ranked Stanford team, an eighth-ranked Stanford team, a 10th-ranked Colorado team and a fifth-ranked Washington team in last year’s Apple Cup.

Moreover, those losses were marked by either last-second choke jobs (see: a missed field goal vs. Stanford in 2015) or total disappearing acts come kickoff (see: last season’s 45-17 home loss to UW).

But Friday? Friday was a showcase for the Cougars’ physical and mental prowess.

We’ll start with the physical. WSU mastered Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold. The preseason Heisman favorite had the worst game of his college career, and it’s not just because he was missing throws.

Perhaps Darnold’s stat line — 15-of-29 passing for 164 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception — suggests he was simply inaccurate. But anyone watching saw that Washington State’s defensive line owned the line of scrimmage on just about every snap.

Darnold’s elusiveness limited…

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