Pac-12: Washington State Cougars

Mike Leach predicts human extinction

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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Mike LeachJose Mandojana for ESPNMike Leach doesn't like what advances in technology have done to human interaction.
Warning: if you're reading this on a mobile device, Mike Leach is worried about you.

It was just another Monday, but then Washington State coach Mike Leach had to go out and predict the end of human kind. Because of course he did.

Via Jacob Thorpe of the Spokesman-Review, Leach detailed how technology is eliminating real human interaction and how eventually "it's going to be tough to perpetuate the species." It's really just better to read his comments and let them soak in:
"I'm not really good with technology. All this button pushing and whatnot. I mean, you can just imagine based on what's happened in the last 15 years. Conversations won't happen 10 years from now. There aren't going to be people to talk to, it's going to be this (mimics pushing buttons). 'Do you want to go out on a date with me?' 'I don't know, what do you look like?' 'Well I look kind of like this.' 'OK, what are your interests?' 'Well, what do you think my interests are? Looking to this thing and typing into this just like yours are.' 'Yeah, no kidding, that's what everybody's doing.' 'Well, where do you want to go?' 'Well, what difference does it make? Because all we're going to be doing is looking into machines anyways.' Well, that's true and in the end, it's going to tough to perpetuate the species. There's no question about that. So we're all going to look in this box and eventually be extinct. That's how it ends."

It's like he was talking about Tinder without knowing (probably) of its existence.

From anyone else, this would be off-the-wall bizarre, but coming from Leach, it's pretty much par for the course. The man who treks through a field of garbanzo beans to work every day has a well-documented history when it comes to technology and dating. You may remember this goodie from years ago, when at Texas Tech he offered first-date guidance for a freshman at the school:
"Well you want some place casual to begin with because you don't want something real formal in the beginning so some place casual -- I recommend Cagle Steakhouse, which is very casual. The other thing that's great about it is that there's very little salad there at Cagle's so the girl will be forced to eat in front of you which is something women hate. But if you can make them do it, the earlier the better, the more than they'll conversate and show their true self. I'm a big movie guy. If you want to do it more like I did when I was your age, you could go to the Stars and Stripes Drive-In Theater because that's what they had in Cody, Wyoming. Otherwise, the movie theater is pretty good, but then you want to end at somewhere like some cool coffee shop type of place where there is bizarre-looking characters going in and out so if the conversation isn't going well you can reference some of the different characters you see coming and going from the place. And if it's a huge night and you're really having a good time then you can trade computer schemes and e-mails and all that mischief that people are up to now-a-days that I know nothing about."

This man is a treasure.

Pac-12 Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
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Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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video 
It was a strong weekend for Pac-12 recruiting, as the conference added two potential impact commitments and several programs hosted important visit weekends. While Utah and Washington emerged as obvious winners, UCLA extended an interesting 2016 offer and both California and Washington State looked to take steps forward with recruits.

Pac-12 Live: Week 5

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Join ESPN.com Pac-12 reporters Kyle Bonagura, Kevin Gemmell, Chantel Jennings and Ted Miller at 5 p.m. ET as they discuss the crazy finish to Week 4 in the conference and look ahead to Week 5. Don't forget that you can also ask the experts your Pac-12 questions live on the show.

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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Hawaii at Colorado
Time: 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Buffs will look to pick up their second win of the season against a Hawaii team that nearly beat Washington and Oregon State. Hawaii has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 57 percent completion rate and has allowed only seven pass plays of 20-plus yards, but Sefo Liufau and Nelson Spruce will attempt to find their way through that defense and put up some big plays for Colorado.

[+] EnlargeTravis Wilson
Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty ImagesTravis Wilson will look to keep the Utes unbeaten when they travel to the Big House to meet Michigan.
Utah at Michigan
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET/12:30 p.m. PT
TV: ABC/ESPN2
Hashtag: #UTAHvsMICH

Travis Wilson will lead his 2-0 Utes into the Big House, where a struggling Michigan team is looking for its first real statement win of the season. Michigan's defense has struggled this season so Utah receiver Dres Anderson could be a name known in the Midwest by Sunday. The Utah defense will also need to contain dual-threat quarterback Devin Gardner, who could find his stride at any time.

Georgia State at Washington
Time: 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Washington put together a pretty convincing performance in a 44-19 win over Illinois, but can the Huskies keep moving forward and sustain that momentum? Georgia State isn't exactly a powerhouse, and with No. 16 Stanford on the horizon, Washington needs to make sure it keeps taking steps forward.

California at Arizona
Time: 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Arizona is 3-0 after picking up a win over Nevada (which could look even better by the end of the season) and welcomes 2-0 Cal to the desert on Saturday. One team is going to pick up its first loss -- and a conference loss at that -- this weekend, but will it be Jared Goff, whose Cal team has averaged 43 points per game, or Anu Solomon, who has finally given the Wildcats a sense of consistency at quarterback?

No. 2 Oregon at Washington State
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #UOvsWSU

The second-ranked Ducks travel to Pullman, Washington, where Washington State seems to have finally hit some kind of a stride in its third game -- and first win -- of the season. It's never easy to play in the Palouse, but will the Cougars defense actually be able to slow Marcus Mariota and the Ducks machine? Or could this prove to be a stumbling block on the way to the College Football Playoff for Mark Helfrich & Co.?

San Diego State at Oregon State
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
TV: FOX Sports 1

San Diego State played No. 21 North Carolina close in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but the Aztecs relinquished a two-touchdown lead in the second half. Oregon State is coming off a bye week following a "closer than the Beavers would've liked" 38-30 win in Hawaii. Sean Mannion, who has 628 passing yards through two games, will continue building chemistry with Victor Bolden, while Storm Woods and Terron Ward look to keep some of the pressure off the pass game by giving the Beavers a reliable run game.

Pac-12's top recruiting visits 

September, 19, 2014
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Official visits are beginning in earnest in the Pac-12, as several conference programs will host impact weekends. Despite no Pac-12 games in California this weekend, a handful of potential impact visitors will hit the campuses of several conference programs, as schools that don't always carry the recruiting banner for the Pac-12 have a chance to take center stage this weekend.


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With any story of any length, there are always going to be anecdotes or asides that just don’t make the final cut. When that story is one about Mike Leach, typically, you could write a novel -- or six -- with all the things that didn’t really fit into the arc of the story.

So, here’s one of those tales that just didn’t make the final draft of the narrative of the Mike Leach story that's on the site on Wednesday.

Leach’s staff meetings feel more like Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a come-as-you-are function with people showing up in socks or sweats or with half of their dinners (literally, inside receivers coach Dave Yost came with a mixing bowl full of salad), which isn’t surprising considering Leach is running the show.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Jose Mandojana for ESPNOf course this is the look of a guy you'd want to coach with.
Because so many of his staff members are guys who’ve played for him or coached with him at previous stops the conversation wavers and at times goes completely off topic. Apparently, they once debated the best college town eateries (this included Leach drawing a map of the United States on the white board and different guys going state by state as they discussed the best BBQ in one town and the best beer in another), and they also debated food chains that have the greatest discrepancy among their food. If you’re wondering, Leach believes it’s Pizza Hut, and don’t get him started on it.

However, the man who spends the most amount of time one on one with Leach is one who actually didn’t play for or coach with Leach at any of his previous stops.

During the season that Leach was out of coaching, Eric Mele, Washington State's offensive quality control assistant, was the special teams coordinator and running backs coach at Wingate University.

Out of the blue one day, he starting trying to find Leach’s Key West address on Google and somehow he stumbled across it.

“It was just, ‘Hey man, sucks you’re out of coaching. When you get back into it, I’d love to get a chance to talk to you,’” Mele remembered.

He had included his phone number but didn’t really think he’d hear from Leach.

A few weeks later Mele attended a coaches clinic at Oregon and during one of the sessions his phone rang. It was an unknown number but it read: “Lubbock, Texas.” He ran out of the session and to the hallway, waiting and hoping for a voicemail. Leach’s voicemail was brief, “Eric? Mike Leach.”

Mele called him back and Leach said that if Mele were ever in Key West, he should let Leach know and they could meet up.

“I literally just booked a trip for two weeks later and told him I’d be in Florida, that kind of thing,” Mele said.

He flew down and met up with Leach, who invited him back in a couple weeks when other coaches -- including Hal Mumme -- would be in town fishing. Again, Mele visited Key West.

When Leach was announced as Washington State’s coach in November 2011, Mele realized this was his chance to get on the staff. Without an invitation, he booked a flight to Pullman for Leach’s introductory news conference and figured he’d pull a, “Hey, I’m in Pullman too, imagine that, want to grab a beer?” Unfortunately, when Mele texted Leach the morning after the news conference, Leach informed him that he had already returned to Key West but that if Mele were going to be in Key West again, he should let Leach know.

Again, Mele said he would just happen to be there in a few days.

“My wife is at home with our three kids and I’m scraping up pennies to pay for the flight to get out here,” Mele said.

He rerouted his trip and flew to Key West.

“At that point he kind of understood I wasn’t going away,” Mele said.

A few weeks later, Leach flew Mele to Pullman and offered him the job. Mele called his wife, who was pregnant with their fourth daughter at the time. It would be a quick move and a lot of transition for their young family, not to mention he’d be taking a pay cut for the job. But, he and his wife, Melissa, knew it was the right time and the right move for their young family and his career.

“The chance to work for him,” Mele said. “You’ve gotta do it.”

Pac-12 viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
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Wyoming at No. 2 Oregon
Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Heisman contender Marcus Mariota will look to get his team off to a quick start over Wyoming. A week after defeating MSU in convincing fashion, the Ducks will attempt to make another big statement as they prepare for conference play. The Cowboys are led by first-year coach Craig Bohl, who gained notoriety by leading North Dakota State to national relevance in his 10 years at the helm of that program.

Illinois at Washington
Time: 4 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

Washington will attempt to pick up its third win of the season but considering how lackluster the first two were, this game will need to be a bit of a statement for the Huskies. Quarterback Cyler Miles will look to improve the Washington passing game so the Huskies won't be pigeonholed into being one-dimensional this season. Meanwhile, the Huskies defense will look to bend and not break as cornerback Marcus Peters will be sitting out for his one-game suspension due to his sideline behavior against Eastern Washington.

Army at No. 15 Stanford
Time: 5 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Stanford hasn't lost consecutive games since the 2009 season and the Cardinal will look to extend that streak when Army visits The Farm this weekend. Stanford needs to limit turnovers and penalties -- two issues that plagued the team in its loss to USC -- while quarterback Kevin Hogan will attempt to keep the offense moving and finishing. Against USC, the Cardinal came away with just 10 points on nine trips inside the Trojans' 35-yard line.

Portland State at Washington State
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

The Cougars will be playing in their home stadium for the first time in 2014 when they welcome PSU to Pullman. Washington State needs a win badly; its 0-2 start is far from what was expected in Year 3 of the Mike Leach regime.

No. 9 USC at Boston College
Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #USCvsBC

USC will make a cross-country trip after its huge win over Stanford last weekend. The Trojans will be without linebacker Hayes Pullard for the first half due to a targeting penalty during the Stanford game. Leonard Williams and the rest of the USC defense will face dual-threat QB and Florida transfer Tyler Murphy.

Side note: Boston College will be wearing special red bandana tribute uniforms Saturday. It's a cool gesture and one that I suggest you learn more about. Take some time to check out the story of former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther -- "The Man in the Red Bandana" -- before the game. Watch the feature and read more here.

No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas
Time: 8:15 p.m. ET
TV: Fox

The Bruins are trying to piece together their first complete performance in their trip to Arlington, Texas, this weekend. Brett Hundley presents quite the challenge for Texas, who has struggled with dual threat quarterbacks this year, already giving up 181 passing yards and 99 rushing yards to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. Defensively, UCLA won't be facing Texas' best -- starting QB David Ash is out with concussion symptoms and Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended both starting offensive tackles (among others).

No. 16 Arizona State at Colorado
Time: 10 p.m. ET
TV: ESPNU/WatchESPN
Hashtag: #ASUvsCOLO

The Sun Devils and Buffs open their Pac-12 slates with one another this weekend. Taylor Kelly, D.J. Foster and the rest of the ASU offense will attempt to put up big offensive numbers against Colorado, which has given up 34.5 points per game this season. But at home, Colorado will attempt to break the streak -- the Buffs haven't beaten a ranked opponent in their last 14 attempts.

Nevada at Arizona
Time: 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks

Quarterback Anu Solomon will look to get the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start as Arizona welcomes Nevada to Arizona Stadium. "We're not good enough to play poorly and still win," coach Rich Rodriguez said earlier this week. It's a pretty obvious lesson, one that he watched play out as Nevada took down Washington State last weekend. "We know there are some games where we can make mistakes and it will really cost you. In some games you can make a few more and still be in it. That's not where we are at yet."

Byes: California, Oregon State, Utah

Weekend recruiting wrap: Pac-12 

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
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video Oregon made the most noise on the field and the recruiting trail this past weekend, posting a win against a top-10 team in front of a number of potential impact recruits in the 2015 and 2016 classes. Elsewhere in the conference, USC made a statement with a big win and UCLA did the same with a big offer.


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video

This was supposed to be the easy portion of the schedule. The part where Washington State put up big numbers -- both offensively and on the scoreboard -- on its way to a 3-0 record in time to welcome Oregon to Martin Stadium on Sept. 20.

Instead, nine days into a season met with high expectations, the Cougars are in an 0-2 hole without much reason for hope. Not after following up a defenseless loss to Rutgers with a punchless 24-13 defeat to Nevada Friday night -- neither of which figures to be a serious contender in its respective conference.

The Cougars' biggest problem so far? Take your pick.

Last week, they were bullied up front and had no answers for the Rutgers offense. The takeaway then was that at least the offense will give them a chance every week.

Against Nevada, it was surprisingly the defense that took on that role. Nevada found some success offensively -- it finished with 324 yards of total offense -- but this wasn't a loss that'll be pegged on the WSU defense or coordinator Mike Breske.

It was the offense that stalled in the red zone and two missed third-quarter field goals that changed the complexion of the game.

Without something to hang its hat on, this is a team without an identity.

Coach Mike Leach, who is now 0-3 since athletic director Bill Moos approached him with a $500,000-a-year raise, spoke last week about how expectations at the university have been too low and need to change. There's generally been good logic to explain those low expectations and two games into another season, that's again the case.

After losing to Rutgers, it was tough to find six wins on the schedule -- and at that point, Nevada was one of the obvious candidates. Now, discussing possible bowl destinations is wasted breath.
Mike Leach sat at the podium following Washington State’s disastrous defensive performance against Rutgers on Aug. 28 and spoke to the lack of expectations that are generally attached to the program he was hired to turn around.

He’s tired of the coddling.

“For too long around this university expectations have been too low, and I think we as coaches and we as players have to change that,” Leach said. “It’s not going to change from the outside. Everybody is going to have 20 pats on the back before they get back to their house.“

In the past six, seven years or so, that would have been true, but a close game against a Power 5 conference school during that span would likely have been defined as a step in the right direction. Maybe even success.

[+] EnlargeRutgers RB Paul James
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenPaul James recorded seven TDs this season before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Saturday.
The 41-38 loss was different. It was the single-most deflating loss for the Cougars since at least 2006, and probably longer. Leach’s assessment that those outside the program would shrug it off and carry on like it was just another loss is simply off base.

Unlike in years past, this season carried tangible expectations. Not expectations for signs of improvement, but legitimate expectations for a bowl berth and to be competitive each week in what is widely regarded as the country's second-best conference.

And that's a credit to Leach.

By taking Washington State to a bowl in just his second season, he made the Cougars relevant again. Before last week, it wouldn't have taken much of an imagination to expect a 5-1 start. At that point, the widely-held assumption was that the Rutgers game would essentially serve as an opening act for a nonconference schedule full of routs.

But after watching Rutgers pile up 496 total yards and generally dominate the line of scrimmage -- Leach called it "whipping our defensive line" -- finding six victories on the schedule isn't as easy a task. Not with that defense.

Reflecting on how that unit played Tuesday during the Pac-12 conference call, Leach spoke bluntly about defensive coordinator Mike Breske's game plan and adjustments.

“I think we were one-dimensional scheme-wise. ... I thought we could have thrown more stuff at ’em," Leach said. "I thought we got to a point where we were doing the same thing over and over again."

But not all is lost.

"No question [the problems are] fixable," he said. "I don’t think there’s any doubt about that."

That theory will be tested Friday night against Nevada -- and its Pistol offense -- in a game that will be televised on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Nevada remains a bit of an unknown after beating FCS opponent Southern Utah 28-19 last week, but, regardless, figures to serve as an interesting barometer for the direction of WSU's season.

WSU got off to a slow start offensively last week, but after settling in, Connor Halliday looked like a quarterback destined for a 5,000-yard season. He hit receivers in stride and spread it around, coming up one drive short of at least partially masking the defensive liabilities.

The Cougars might chase 40 points per game this year, and they'll need every one.
Last week, your humble #4pac made some bold predictions about the season and how it will play out. One of the predictions was that there would be six teams in the AP Top 25 come season’s end.

Now you’ve seen some Week 1 action and maybe you were impressed, maybe you were disappointed, maybe you were confused (or maybe you were just happy that football was finally back and you didn't care what happened because "it's just Week 1 anyway," right?).

SportsNation

How many Pac-12 teams will be in the AP Top 25 at the end of the season?

  •  
    17%
  •  
    44%
  •  
    32%
  •  
    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,843)

But how much did the Huskies' near loss at Hawaii bother you? Was there too much hype too soon for first-year coach Chris Petersen? Or with Cyler Miles getting the starting QB spot, are you feeling OK the Huskies coming back into the Top 25? What about UCLA’s offense? The Bruins' defense did work, but the offense took a while to get started. Are you reconsidering their spot as a top-10 or Top-25 team? Or was it just a one-half glitch? Maybe Taylor Kelly impressed you like he did the AP, earning a small bump up in the standings.

And it’s not hard to imagine that big moves that could be happening after this weekend. With Michigan State visiting Oregon in a top-10 matchup, a lopsided win or loss could push Oregon higher or move it much lower. We’ve seen that snowball before against a team that has similar characteristics to MSU. And USC-Stanford could have the same effects except that one Pac-12 team’s move up the poll is another Pac-12 team’s move down.

You’ve only seen a small sliver but after seeing each team take the field, we wanted to know your thoughts on how many teams you think will be in the Top 25 at the end of the season.

Just to remind you, here were the Pac-12 teams in the preseason AP Top 25:

3. Oregon
7. UCLA
11. Stanford
15. USC
19. Arizona State
25. Washington

And when the Week 2 votes came out today, here’s how things shook out:

3. Oregon
11. UCLA
13. Stanford
14. USC
17. Arizona State

So, there’s a bit of movement from Week 1 to Week 2. When all is said and done and the bowl games are wrapped up, how many Pac-12 teams will still be standing in the Top 25?
(Pause for laughter)

(Pause again, for laughter)

(Pause, again, still for more laughter)

UCLA head coach Jim Mora had just been asked a purely-for-fun, purely-hypothetical question: What if UCLA and USC had to play in Week 1?

“I don’t think it would be a good deal,” Mora said. “You want the drama to build. I don’t know what it would be like. I never thought of that. [Pause for laughter, again]. It would make for an interesting off season. You’d have a whole lot of time to talk about it rather than just a week. Heck, I don’t know.”

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/David Zalubowski Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre relishes the opportunity to play a rivalry game in Week 1. But most Pac-12 coaches would rather wait until the end of the season.
 The roots of this comical concept stem from the fact that while most of the Pac-12 will be dining on desserts in Week 1, the Colorado Buffaloes have to play a rivalry game with Colorado State right out of the chute.

And make no mistake -- this is a rivalry game. This will be the 86th game in the series (the Buffs lead 62-21-2), which has been played off and on since 1893 and annually since 1995 (the longest gap was between ’58 to ’83).

It doesn’t matter that Colorado is in the Pac-12 and Colorado State is in the Mountain West. This game is as heated as it gets.

“We think of this as a traditional rivalry, no doubt about it,” said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. “You hear about it every day. Everybody is up and down Interstate 25, and CU fans and CSU fans run into each other. The kids know each other. The coaches know each other because we speak at different clinics and run into each other all of the time.”

Colorado State got win No. 1 for coach Jim McElwain in 2012 with a 22-17 victory. A year later, the MacIntyre era kicked off with a 41-27 victory.

“The pros of it are it’s a big, heightened game,” MacIntyre said. “It keeps your kids on their toes. They hear about it all the time. It makes it a little more special. All opening games are special. But this puts an extra flavor to it, so to speak.”

That got the Pac-12 blog to thinking … simply for extra flavor … what if every rivalry game in the league was played in Week 1. What would the storylines be?

  • Territorial Cup: New Arizona QB faces new ASU D as RichRod looks for first win in rivalry.
  • The Big Game: Bear Raid looks to get off the mat against two-time conference champs.
  • The Civil War: Potential first-round picks Marcus Mariota and Sean Mannion duel in opener.
  • UCLA-USC: Oh jeez … can you imagine USC and UCLA squaring off Saturday after the week the Trojans have had? This one writes itself.
  • The Apple Cup: Chris Petersen’s Washington debut against the Cougs.

Look, we know this isn’t ever going to happen. But it’s fun to think about the possibilities. Right?

“Oh, we wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham, [OK, guess not]. “I’m a fan. I don’t want to start the season off with a rivalry game. We love that being at the end of the season for our fans.”

The consensus was that if the rivalry game was in Week 1, so be it, the coaches would prepare per usual. But it just wouldn’t feel the same.

“One year we played Hawaii after [we played Oregon] at the end of the year and that felt funny,” said Oregon State coach Mike Riley. “It would definitely make for an interesting start to the season.”

Because the CSU-CU game is an out-of-conference showdown, the thought is that this game is best played before league play cranks up. And that makes sense.

“Late in the conference, you’re worried about conference games and getting to the conference championship game,” MacIntyre said.” I think playing it early in the year is a good thing for both of us.”

So, no. Pac-12 rivalries should not be played in Week 1. But the tradition works for the Colorado folks so don’t mess with it. It will make for a fun debut Friday night and add some sizzle to a Week 1 slate that doesn’t have a ton of gusto.

And we can all get on board with Graham: “That game is the game for us. You can win 11 games and lose that one and have an unsuccessful season. You could lose 11 and win that one and have a successful season. That’s how big that game is for us. I kind of like it where it’s at.”

Cougars crumble in fourth again

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
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Washington State had the lead over Rutgers and a key fourth-quarter defensive stop. All it needed to do was to close the deal with poise. It didn't.

With an ending that surely had more than a few Cougars fans recalling the fourth-quarter collapse in the New Mexico Bowl against Colorado State, Washington State dropped a 41-38 decision to Rutgers, an eight-point underdog, because it couldn't hold a fourth-quarter lead. Again.

And it couldn't hold that lead because of a critical turnover -- again -- this time a fumbled punt return from typically sure-handed receiver River Cracraft.

Instead of taking over at midfield with a four-point lead, the Cougars handed the ball back to Rutgers, which drove for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

Even with that, WSU had plenty of time -- 3:18 left on the clock -- to drive for the winning points. QB Connor Halliday and the passing offense had been outstanding most of the night.

But a sack put the Cougars in a hole, Cracraft couldn't haul in a pass on fourth-and-13, and the Scarlet Knights celebrated on Seattle's CenturyLink Field.

The loss was a hit for the Pac-12 on the opening weekend, while Rutgers immediately pleased its new Big Ten brothers. For the Cougs, it probably lowered preseason expectations that they might take another step forward in the North Division. It would be fair to call a Friday visit to Nevada on Sept. 5 a must-win for bowl hopes.

As for the good, Halliday completed 40 of 56 passes for 532 yards with five touchdowns, shaking off a bad early interception. The bad? Other than fumbling away a chance for an opening victory, the Cougs couldn't run the ball -- they had just six yards rushing -- nor could they stop the run. The Scarlet Knights rushed for 215 yards. Those are not unfamiliar problems.

As fumbling away a lead in the fourth quarter isn't.
The skies may or may not open over Seattle on Thursday ... and not with rain.

With the Washington State Air Raid offense traveling across the state to face Rutgers, it’s almost certain there will be a show -- directed by Mike Leach and starring Connor Halliday (with a slew of supporting actors in the form of receivers one through nine in the Cougar offense).

In Leach’s third year at the helm of the Cougars and Halliday’s third year in leading the offense, there seems no better game to get the season kicked off on the right foot.

[+] EnlargeConnor Halliday
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonThe Cougars will expect more out of Connor Halliday in his third year starting under coach Mike Leach.
With the Cougars focused on making the postseason and winning a bowl game this season, they need to make a good first impression. Most signs point to that being likely against Rutgers.

Because not only does Halliday have three years of experience in the Air Raid offense and a herd of wide receivers to toss to, he’s also going against one of the least-experienced groups of defensive backs he’ll face all season.

At corner, the Scarlet Knights will be starting Justin Goodwin -- a recently converted running back -- and Gareef Glashen, who started just six games last season. At safety, Rutgers has Lorenzo Waters (24 career starts) at strong safety and another element of inexperience in free safety Delon Stephenson (one start in 2013). And like most teams, Rutgers is going to have to delve deeper into its defensive back depth to keep up with the clip at which Washington State gets fresh receivers into the game.

Last year, Rutgers allowed 170 passes of 10 or more yards and 58 passes of 20-plus yards. On third downs, opponents converted on 39 percent of pass plays and on fourth downs, opponents converted on 58 percent of pass plays.

Sounds like a perfect storm for Halliday, right?

And even if he weren’t facing an inexperienced secondary right out of the gates, one would assume that he’d be taking a marked step forward simply because it's his third year in the program with Leach.

Previous quarterbacks under Leach have excelled in their third seasons. At Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury went from 25 touchdowns in his second season under Leach to 45 touchdowns in his third full season. And though his completion percentage slightly dropped between those two seasons, he also attempted about 200 more passes in 2002 than he did in 2001.

Most of Graham Harrell’s statistics stayed pretty similar between Seasons 2 (2007) and 3 (2008) of being a full-time starter under Leach, however one area of marked improvement was in his touchdown-to-interception ratio, which dropped from one interception for every 3.4 touchdowns to one interception for every five touchdowns. Certainly Halliday, who had one interception for every 1.5 touchdowns last season could help out the team if his ratio improved like Harrell’s did.

So keep your eyes to the sky in Seattle on Thursday because the Halliday Show is coming to town and chances are it will be better than last season.

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