Cougars keep their focus inward

The Cougars need QB Connor Halliday to limit his interceptions. (Associated Press)

PULLMAN – The Washington State football team will take on Arizona State tonight. For all the Cougars care, they may as well be playing the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks or Pullman High School. The Sun Devils (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12) look to be the toughest of WSU’s four remaining foes, a fact that doesn’t seem to concern the home team in the slightest.

The color and spectacle of the Halloween costumes in the stands will go unnoticed by the team, as will the odd day of the week and the late start time. According to WSU players and coaches, none of those factors will matter and the team from Tempe is just another in a long line of faceless, nameless opponents for the Cougars, who direct all their focus internally.

“Our world is a tunnel-vision world and for what we’re trying to instill in our players, the opportunity to get right, it gets back to coach (Mike) Leach’s philosophy,” defensive line coach Joe Salave’a said. “It’s about us and our ability to worry about the things that we need to take care of. And that’s minimizing hesitations, playing with great effort and being the most excited to play.”

For the Cougars (4-4, 2-3), tonight’s game won’t be about stopping ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly, who can damage a defense through the air or on the ground. Rather, it will be about getting four solid quarters out of Connor Halliday, who has put up big passing numbers this season but struggles with turnovers.

If you believe WSU’s coaches, the unforgiving ASU defense, which gives up the second-fewest passing yards in the Pac-12, won’t be on their mind. Instead, their thoughts will be consumed with whether or not the Cougars’ secondary can create the turnovers that have become their trademark this season.

That reflective approach is spurred in part by the team’s overall youth. Because WSU is so young and inexperienced, it simply doesn’t have time to worry about the other team.

“In our case, what we lack the most is overall experience, so you try to manufacture that between watching film, meetings and practice, that type of thing,” Leach said. “The more you draw out of those things, the more you make up for your lack of experience.”

For WSU to come away with a win in its second-to-last home game of the season, it needs to fix a passing game that has produced 19 interceptions – four more than any other Pac-12 team.

The Cougars will likely reflect on what to do about a defense that is giving up just a hair less than 30 points per game, better than only Cal and Colorado among conference foes.

“Just a lack of communication,” linebacker Justin Sagote said of the defense’s issues. “(The) safeties are not talking to us, linebackers not talking to each other, not telling the defensive line where to go.”

Whether the Cougars fix their problems remains to be seen. But if they can’t, it won’t be for lack of trying. The team isn’t thinking about anything – or anyone – else.

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Arizona State at WSU tonight

WSU COUGARS Records: 4-4 overall, 2-3 Pac-12

Meet the Cougars

PosName#YrQBConnor Halliday12Jr.RBMarcus Mason35Jr.XDom Williams80So.YRiver Cracraft84Fr.LTGunnar Eklund63So.LGJoe Dahl56So.CElliot Bosch60Sr.RGMatt Goetz66Sr.RTJohn Fullington77Sr.HBrett Bartolone19So.ZGabe Marks9So.PosName#YrDTKalafitoni Pole98Jr.NGIoane Gauta95Sr.DEXavier Cooper96So.BLBDestiny Vaeao97So.SLBCyrus Coen42Jr.MLBDarryl Monroe13So.WLBJustin Sagote10Sr.CBDamante Horton6Sr.FSTaylor …

Meet the Sun Devils

PosName#YrQBTaylor Kelly10Jr.RBMarion Grice1Sr.XJaelen Strong21So.YKevin Ozier82Sr.LTEvan Finkenberg62Sr.LGJamil Douglas74Jr.CKody Koebensky67Sr.RGVi Teofilo73So.RTTyler Sulka54Jr.HDe’Marieya Nelson12Jr.TEChris Coyle87Sr.PosName#YrDTWill Sutton90Sr.NGJaxon Hood92So.DEGannon Conway95Sr.BLBAnthony Jones31Sr.SLBSteffon Martin2Sr.MLBCarl Bradford52Jr.WLBChris Young21Sr.CBOsahon Irabor24Sr.FSDamarious …


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