PULLMAN – The past two Saturdays couldn’t have been more different for the Washington State football team.
Just a week ago, the challenge for the Cougars was to lick their wounds in the aftermath of a 55-17 drubbing by Stanford in Seattle that saw quarterback Connor Halliday get knocked out of the game in the third quarter.
Now, following WSU’s impressive 44-22 road win over Cal – in which Halliday passed for more than 500 yards – the Cougars face a very different but equally difficult test heading into Saturday’s contest with Oregon State: motivating themselves to improve just as much as they did when their backs were against the wall.
“We’ve got a lot of improvement to do,” coach Mike Leach said. “Oregon State’s a great football team and they need our full focus and attention and we have to get a week better just for the sake of football and improvement. We don’t have anything to be complacent about. There was a lot from this game we need to improve on.”
Leach knows that if the Cougars aren’t continually improving as a football team then they will fall behind opponents that are. The Beavers began the season with an embarrassing loss to Eastern Washington University of the Football Championship Subdivision. But they have won every subsequent game, highlighted by a 44-17 thrashing of Colorado on Sept. 28.
With a bye last week, the Beavers have also had more time to focus on the Cougars.
Despite the gaudy numbers put up by the offense in the Cal game, there is still plenty for WSU to improve on. The team has put itself in the driver’s seat for a bowl game, but still has weaknesses that could turn into kryptonite for the Cougars if they’re not addressed.
Over the past two games the WSU defense has given up 843 passing yards, a grisly figure no matter the context. OSU quarterback Sean Mannion leads the Pac-12 with 2,018 passing yards in five games, and completes more than 67 percent of passes. It will be critical for WSU’s defensive backs to get better after allowing a pair of long touchdowns at Cal against a freshman quarterback.
“You can never be satisfied when the offense puts up a lot of numbers,” defensive lineman Ioane Gauta said after the Cal game. “We pride ourselves in stopping the run on the way to the quarterback and we let some (passes) out in this game so we’ve got to go back to the drawing board and build from there.”