Oct 31, 2013; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars coach Mike Leach reacts during the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Following the lopsided loss to Arizona State at home Thursday night, numerous questions swirl around Cougar football. Answering those questions comes easy to some. Putting those answers into action on the football field isn’t quite as easy.
Coach Mike Leach was a master of disguise during post game interviews late Thursday evening. Given the possibility of a Halloween theme, perhaps masquerading as someone only mildly frustrated by the 55-21 beat down delivered by a very good Sun Devil team was appropriate.
A little over a year ago Leach was describing his players with labels like “dead corpses”, analysis fitting the delivery of a post mortem on October 31st.
The days of zombies dressed up in crimson and gray appear to be a part of the past. Cougar football is moving forward with a monumental rebuilding effort spearheaded by Coach Leach.
Responding to a question about frustration permeating the locker room following a third consecutive game where the WSU defense has surrendered 50+ points per game, the Washington State head man matter-of-factly replied, “We’ve got a real conscientious group. I thought they played hard.”
Anyone with an objective eye watching the Cougs effort last night would have to agree with Leach in that regard.
So how does a team playing hard for 60-minutes end up being dominated on the scoreboard?
"“I think we went out there (against ASU) and played hesitant. Tried to play perfect. At some point we need to not worry about our opponent. We need to worry about just being the best team we can be. Just do our job and trust our technique and the things we do every day. Do it collectively.”— WSU Coach Mike Leach"
The suggestion the Cougs started slowly because they were rusty after taking a week off due to one of their scheduled bye weeks was dismissed by both coaches and players.
Oct 31, 2013; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday (12) throws a pass against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
“I don’t think there was rust because that was the best week of practice in a season since I’ve been at Washington State,” stated junior quarterback Connor Halliday.
Practice is truly useful if the work accomplished is put into play during the game.
Leach described Halliday’s performance as, “… one of the best games Connor has played. I think he did a real good job leading the unit. I think he did a great job keeping the sideline up. Kept guys battling. He did a pretty good job.”
Listening to those words, you’d think WSU won the game. So why didn’t they?
“Dropped balls. Hesitation on basic blitzes (by the offensive line). Occasionally bad reads (by Halliday). And bad reads on defense,” were listed by Leach as some of what went wrong.
Junior nose tackle Toni Pole agreed, “They got us out of position at times and it hurt us.”
The game took a 14-swing early in the third quarter when ASU Coach Todd Graham took advantage of a WSU special team weakness by calling a fake punt play on 4th and 6-yards on their 46 yard line. Instead of the Cougs getting the ball back to the offense to replicate their previous possession with a long touchdown drive, the Sun Devils kept the ball using just two plays to go the remaining 39-yards for a score.
Speaking of long drives, there was another frustration for WSU Thursday night. They lost the field position battle. Yet that fact didn’t seem to be an issue for Halliday.
“We get excited when we get backed up (near) our own zone. That’s a chance to get 90-yards of offense. Everybody is excited about that. We’re here to put up numbers. We’re here to score touchdowns. It’s frustrating when that doesn’t happen.”
Coach Leach bristled at the suggestion the game was lost because of repeated poor field position. “The starting point is don’t drop the balls rather than worry about where your field position is. Go ahead and catch a couple of balls. Go ahead and execute. Hold up protection-wise and change the field position.”
Anyone connected to Cougar football was exasperated following last night’s game.
Coach Leach knows better than anyone what the formula is to win games with just three remaining on the regular season schedule…all of which are winnable.
"“Our problem isn’t the ability to do good things. We just have to have the ability to do it over and over and over and not be distracted. You did it once. Do it again. Do it twice. Do it another time.”— Coach Leach"
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
- During his post game interviews, Toni Pole articulated his view of what’s next for this team with heartfelt conviction. “We’re getting better and we’ve got to find a way to make the next step. We still have our goal ahead of us and that’s what we’re working toward. We won’t stop until we achieve it.” Yes, Pole was talking about playing in a bowl game this December.