Aug 31, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday (12) passes the ball during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium. The Tigers defeated the Cougars 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Washington State played toe-to-toe with SEC opponent Auburn Saturday night. In the end, it was the rebuilding Tigers who came away with a victory, 31-24.
Listening to post game comments by Coach Mike Leach and players, it’s clear there continues to be a positive shift in attitude by Cougar football.
“I think we improved,” stated WSU head man Leach in response to a media query following another tough loss.
If the Cougs are to convince themselves and the rest of us they are headed in the right direction, they have to believe. Heck, that’s the foundation for improvement to a program that has fallen on hard times over the past decade.
"“I’m really proud of the effort. I thought we had great effort,” asserted Coach Leach Aug 31, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach talks with referees during the second half against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium. The Tigers defeated the Cougars 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports"
Yes, one of the reasons this 2013 Cougar football believes they will not only improve but win close games this season stems from a roster now loaded with guys who have bought into the way Coach Leach and his staff are running the program.
Last season there was a refrain offered over and over again by Leach when discussing how his team lost a game. There wasn’t a 60-minute effort required to win games at the Pac-12 level. It took those who survived through the 2012 season 11 games to deliver on that basic requirement.
Coach Leach was quick to point out, “I thought we played really hard the whole game”.
Say what you will about the loss to Auburn, you cannot honestly suggest Washington State didn’t play aggressive, attacking and high-energy football from beginning to end.
What did Leach take away from the Auburn game?
"“We just need to polish up and be sharper.”"
“We moved the ball on them all night. The only time we got stopped is when we stopped ourselves,” lamented junior quarterback Connor Halliday facing media questions following his inconsistent performance.
“They let up damn near 500-yards of offense so they didn’t play that great,” stated Halliday clearly upset by his three interceptions. “It’s frustrating and it’s on my shoulders (because) of turning the ball over.”
"“We showed improvement but we still lost the game.” – Sophomore WR Gabe Marks Aug 31, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Washington State Cougars receiver Gabe Marks (9) is tackled by Auburn Tigers defensive back Jonathon Mincy (6) during the first half at Jordan Hare Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports"
Marks didn’t bat an eye when flatly stating, “We should have won that game.They weren’t better than us.”
He continued to vent, “We’re all pissed off.”
If you were listening to Cougar coaches and players during post game interviews for the first 11 games last season, there was never a hint of swagger. Though the Cougs still have to earn their swagger by posting wins, they are showing a dramatic shift in attitude.
“SEC, it’s a good conference, but we play in the Pac-12 and I think it’s the best conference in the nation,” Marks reminded both the media and himself.
“It’s not like we haven’t played against great competition before.”
In support of his strong conviction, Marks said this about where this Cougar squad is at, “We go against our teammates every day and there isn’t any difference (in Auburn’s talent).” He wasn’t slighting the Tigers whatsoever. No, Marks was offering his view of anyone comparing WSU to an SEC opponent.
The reasonable assessment of Cougar football after one year of Coach Leach leading the program was very simple. Washington State football had a long way to go to reach a level where they could compete with the best in the nation.
One game into the 2013 season, it looks as if a return to the glory days of WSU football aren’t too far away.