FROM PULLMAN — As is customary on Mondays, WSU coach Mike Leach met with reporters for about 19 minutes to discuss last week's game, this week's game, bobblehead dolls and players with “empty corpse” qualities about them. Read on for a transcript, video and some notes on this week's depth chart.
Leach said last night that he's sticking with Connor Halliday as the team's starting quarterback, and the depth chart reflects that. There is no longer an “or” listed between Halliday and Jeff Tuel, as there had been the last couple weeks.
Halliday was benched after throwing three interceptions in a little more than two quarters last week against Oregon State. But Leach has shown throughout his career that he doesn't like switching quarterbacks, and he isn't making a change now.
“He’d been playing the best until he threw three interceptions, and then we’re at the point in the season where we have to invest the reps in somebody,” Leach said. “We just have to make a choice and I think Jeff’s certainly done some good things and I think a lot of Jeff. (I) initially sat Connor down to see if Jeff could give us a spark, let Connor see the field and settle down and he just needs more reps, more experience and learn from experience, really.”
As for Tuel, Leach said: “He’s one of the greatest team guys I’ve ever been around. Very supportive guy, works hard, very skilled, good player. If he was our quarterback, I’d feel real comfortable.”
Other depth chart notes … Gabe Marks and Gino Simone are now listed with the “or” tag at Y receiver, further proof of Simone's recent ascenion up the receiver ranks. … The offensive line depth remains the same, with Eklund, Fullington, Bosch, Goetz and Rodgers listed as the starters from left to right. … Teondray Caldwell and Carl Winston are again listed with “or” as the starting running back(s). … Leach said offensive lineman Dan Spitz has withdrawn from school to tend to personal matters and is not expected back.
Here's the transcript of Leach's press conference …
(On the offense and if he's surprised it hasn't clicked) “They can write it down on a board, we can do it in practice. I’m surprised that we’ve had a lot of new faces and a lot of new lineups shuffled in there because of various circumstances we’ve got a lot of youth. I think that’s part of it. Lately we’ve played pretty good teams. We’ve just got to get better. We’ve got to develop our skills and play together better.”
(On overcoming red zone struggles) “Really just settle them down and make routine plays. I think sometimes guys go down to the red zone, try to make too much happen, rather than get hungry they get tight. I think we’re symptomatic of that. All of a sudden we’ll tighten up and we won’t do what we can do.”
(On coping with a losing record) “I just think there’s a lot of patience and patience is hard to come by, so I think you’ve got to manufacture it a little bit, but the biggest thing is you stick together and just keep doing the best you can.”
(On seniors being leaders) “I think it’smixed. I think some it’s stellar. I think Gino, Gino’s a guy elected team captain this week. Came from not playing hardly at all to elected team captain. A lot of it is just he’s kind of accelerated his focus and effort. Some of them have been great and some of them have been very poor. Some of them have had kind of this zombie-like, go through the motions, everything is like how it’s always been, that’s how it’ll always be. Some of them quite honestly have an empty corpse quality. That’s not pleasant to say or pleasant to think about, but that’s a fact. That’s why it’s been necessary for us to have the youth moment that we’ve had.”
(On playing younger players) “We’ve got a higher effort level. Simple as that. Playing a bunch of freshmen, true freshmen, we’ve got a higher effort level out of them. If you’re a senior you need to ask yourself, why is that the case? How can that possibly be?”
(On Simone's rise) “I just think he’s kept plugging away and kept working. Stayed focused and continued to work hard, continued to battle through it. When Gino would play bad he’d be tight, he’d press, couldn’t uncork the thing. he’d just be so wound up he couldn’t function. Then when he relaxed he really did some good things.”
(Is part of that being a senior?) “I just think mentally and physically and emotionally committed, and some good things are happening. I wish I’d have seen this same fella in spring, because I think he’d be even better than he is now, but he’s really doing some good things.”
(On the defense) “I think that they’ve gotten better and better. I think after our Colorado game they kind of focused in and recommitted and kind of progressed and we’re starting to get some leadership emerge there. You’ve got Travis Long who’s a real focused guy that kind of leads that group and then Junior’s really kind of emerged as a leader. (Ioane) Gauta’s been a captain on virtually every team he’s ever been on and you can see why, he’s doing some good things out there. Justin Sagote really a lot of effort out there. We got really lucky with those two JC guys.”
(On the run game being a concern) “Absolutely. It means we’re not able to move their front around. We’ve got to get better up front. The yards, per se, aren’t a problem if you’re getting a bunch of yards somewhere else, but what is a problem is our opponents’ fronts have been more physical than ours is.”
(On shuffling the offensive line) “A little. We don’t have a lot of guys to shuffle. We’ve tried to move it around to get the best combinations but really we’re only in position to play about seven of them so we’ve got to do the best we can there.”
(On Wade Jacobson) “I thought he did some good stuff there. I thought he did some good stuff out there when he played. First series a little rusty. After that I thought he played pretty good.”
(On impressions of the season's first half) “Just a lot of missed opportunities. I think we’ve improved as a team but we’ve had a lot of missed opportunities that if we were a more mature, mentally tougher team we could have capitalized on it.”
(On if recent games suggest they could click soon) “The Oregon State thing doesn’t suggest that. It does on defense. It doesn’t on offense. The Oregon State tape certainly doesn’t suggest that on offense. We need to learn from it and never let it happen again. The Oregon State game offensively was a disaster. We didn’t play well at all.”
(How do you fix that?) “We just need focused people. Rather than have fragmented focus, right now we’re a team that if we face any adversity we get discouraged. If you don’t embrace adversity you’re never going to improve. … Nobody would be a college football player if they hadn’t overcome adversity, defeated other people on the depth chart and did a whole lot of things that are difficult that other people aren’t doing … We’re in a situation where we don’t embrace adversity and understanding that there’s no real satisfaction unless you do something that’s difficult. If you go out there and if we were to play some junior high school team and pound them, would anybody be satisfied with that? Would that be fun? Would there be any sense of accomplishment? No, there wouldn’t. So adversity is required for that. Well, we’ve got to be a team that embraces adversity, and right now we’re a team that if it’s not easy we want to flinch and flounder. We’ve got to change that. Part of it is changing the way we think and part of it is we haven’t really had the strength from our senior class we should get there, so we turn to our younger guys to develop them and they’re a ways off.”
(On Cal breaking through last week) “I don’t know any parallels there or not. Cal does what they do, we do what we do, we’ve been here a few months and they’ve been there 10 years or whatever it adds up to. What I do know is we’re a better team than we play. When as a team, collectively, we believe we’re a good team, we will play better. There’s way too much salesmanship going into, you know, ‘oh but really you are a good team. Oh, yes you are.' That’s a bunch of crap. At some point a guy’s got to get out there and say 'I worked hard at this and it means something to me and I’m going to prevail over my opposition,' rather than all these little boosts and dustoffs and pats on the back everybody feels good, we’re crazy on that thing. We’re more concerned about relationships and people being happy than performance. Until we put performance in front of all that, it’s going to take a while. We can make the decision and do it today, or we can drag our feet. But right now, our players, coaches and everybody that it’s meaningful to, we need to get those other guys on board. Either that or get them out of here.”
(On making sure Halliday doesn't get down) “Meet with him all the time, try to get him to settle down. He’s a guy that, there’s two different types, there’s the type that if things don’t go well and there’s adversity, they’re going to get in the fetal position and run for cover – the mental fetal position – sit there and hope they don’t have to play. Connor’s kind of the opposite. Connor’s going to start pressing, try to put too much on his shoulders, and start pulling the trigger early and hurry stuff up and try to make too much happen, which is just as destructive but I think the motive’s a little more sincere and more what we’re after.”
(On the offensive line) “I just think again, collectively we're better than we give ourselves credit for, but there’s so many new faces that are new to being beside one another that we’re not real cohesive. If you add up the snaps they’ve played in their career, I don’t know that anybody’s got a full three games under their belt. There’s going to be a little growing process there but part of it is the confidence you’ve worked hard, you’ve developed your skills and you’re good enough to go out there and make it happen. We’ve got to quit stopping ourselves. Any little thing we want to go fragile mentally. At some point we’ve got to stop caring about that and just worry about playing.”
(Players talk about knowing they're a good team. What do you see that suggest otherwise?) “You’re evidently talking to the right ones. Obviously we practice well and we’ve made a lot of progress and we’re doing a lot of good things. The first step, and I’ve seen this before, you go out there and practice well and you get a little performance anxiety once you go out there on the field. The first step is can you do it on the practice field? We can do it on the practice field. Part of it is I think it’s meaningful to a lot of these guys to play well so we play nervous, we play tight and nobody can do anything terribly effective unless they’re relaxed. Not if you have to move and react to something.”
(On the Mike Leach bobblehead doll) “I would like to meet the caveman that invented a bobblehead because it’s obviously been around a long time. I’ve never had a bobblehead I recall, maybe one handed out at a baseball game or something. No, actually, somebody gave me a Billy Martin bobblehead. Shoot, if it’s good enough for Billy Martin, it’s good enough for me. It’s flattering, I just don’t know how somebody would have thought of such a thing.”