Craig Bohl doesn’t like losing.
But he can live with a loss if he feels his University of Wyoming program gave everything it had and was simply beaten by a better team.
That’s why he’s having a hard time living with Saturday.
The Cowboys hosted a solid Pac-12 team in Washington State. Not great — at least it wasn’t Saturday — but a quality program that has had success since Mike Leach took over.
Still, it felt in the week leading up to the game that UW felt it could beat WSU. Nobody thought it would be easy, but it wasn’t like the Cowboys needed a perfect game, either.
Unfortunately, the Pokes were anything but perfect.
Penalties, missed assignments, missed opportunities and overall inconsistent play were way too much for UW to overcome against a Cougars team that won’t win the Pac-12 North, but will be playing a bowl game in December.
Saturday was chance for a Cowboys program that has already come a long way in four-plus season with Bohl and Co. at the helm to take another step forward.
A Mountain West Mountain division championship and two bowl games over the past two seasons tell us that UW football has reached a stable place of success.
The next step felt like it could come Saturday — beating a Power 5 program.
Before Saturday, the Cowboys had played six Power 5 teams since 2014, going 0-6 while being beaten by an average score of 43-13.
Saturday just felt different. It felt like the Cowboys could compete with Washington State.
It felt that way prior to the game, even when WSU jumped out to a 10-0 lead and certainly when UW scored 19 of the next 22 points for a 19-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
But then UW did something it rarely has done under Bohl. UW lost its composure and toughness.
The Cowboys didn’t finish, and that’s something that will keep those who lead the program up at night well into the week.
Part of UW football’s MO is to take an opponent and deliver body blow after body blow during the first three quarters and deliver a knockout in the fourth.
Over the past two seasons we’ve seen the Cowboys beat teams simply by wearing them down and then wearing them out.
In the season-opening win against New Mexico State, the Aggies wanted no part of the Cowboys by the time the fourth quarter rolled around and UW could have taken a knee offensively the entire quarter and still won.
Saturday, it looked like UW’s game plan was working.
From down 10-0 to up 19-13, the Cowboys were starting to wear down the Cougars.
Then the Cowboys got sloppy.
And frustrated. And confused. And Washington State took advantage.
Thirteen penalties for 109 yards were bad enough, but several were personal foul penalties, which Bohl abhors. And some kept Cougars scoring drives alive.
That frustration showed some in Saturday’s post-game comments and I would imagine showed up a lot during the team’s video review.
So everybody’s frustrated. The team, the coaches, the fans.
That’s not a bad thing.
Four years ago, the Cowboys lost 48-14 to No. 2-ranked Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. UW led that game 7-0 before the Ducks scored 41 straight points.
During the following Monday’s press conference, a member of the media congratulated Bohl for “hanging” with Oregon for a half.
Bohl’s facial reaction was unforgettable.
Saturday, nobody was congratulating Bohl for “hanging” with WSU for most of the game.
Yet his reaction was just an unforgettable.
Bohl was terse at times with his answers, guarded at others. It was the type of reaction from a coach who not only thought his team could win, but maybe even expected it.
Monday, Bohl was still somewhat guarded, but candid in that he shared his frustration. He wasn’t frustrated only by the outcome, but by the performance and effort of his team, himself and his coaches.
Bohl said Monday he felt like his team didn’t answer the bell in the fourth quarter. I doubt there’s much more that frustrates a coach than that.
Bohl added he believes his team has enough character to bounce back from Saturday’s bitter taste.
It won’t be easy. The Cowboys play at Missouri, which features one of the top quarterbacks and offenses in the country.
Saturday, Bohl said that the price of poker is going up in describing the upcoming meeting with the Tigers.
The Cowboys didn’t necessarily fold their cards against Washington State, but they weren’t always playing with the top hand, either.
If UW plays like it did Saturday, the Cowboys’ first foray into Southeastern Conference territory since 2008 will be painful.
But still not as painful as the loss to the Cougars.
That one hurt UW’s soul.
And that’s a pain that rarely goes away.
Scott Nulph is the WyoSports assistant editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 307-755-3324. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottNulph.