PULLMAN – An all-time Mike Leach tirade is coming up on its one-year anniversary.
Last year, it was around this time – give or take a few days – when the Washington State coach delivered a scathing review of the Cougars for their lackluster performance in a 31-28 loss at Boise State. Leach wasn’t thrilled with the mentality, the execution or the resolve his team showed, and it triggered a postgame rant with the media. That was followed by a rant in the press conference two days later. You’d have to figure there was a third rant behind closed doors at some point in between.
Boy did all that ranting do wonders.
WSU staged an eight-game winning streak after the loss in Boise and has since won nine of its last 12. Only Minnesota and the two teams that represented the Pac-12 in the conference title game have gotten the best of the Cougars.
WSU won’t be marking the anniversary of Leach’s infamous diatribe this weekend, but the Cougars will be doing everything in their power to make sure their coach isn’t roasting them for the second year in a row.
The 20th-ranked Cougars (1-0, 0-0) get the Broncos (1-0, 0-0) at home this year and can begin making amends for last year’s result when the ball is kicked off at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium. ESPN will carry the national television broadcast.
“We’re looking forward to getting another shot at these guys,” said WSU quarterback Luke Falk, who posted mind-boggling numbers in Boise last season (55-for-71, 480 yards, 4 TDs), but couldn’t finish off a last-effort drive to either tie the score or take the lead.
This game projects to look a lot different than last year’s, though. Well beyond the color of the turf that it’ll be played on.
One game isn’t much of an indicator, but it’s possible the Broncos aren’t the same offensive juggernaut they’ve been in the past. They’ve lost one of the country’s top running backs (Jeremy McNichols) in addition to one of the Mountain West’s most productive receivers (Thomas Sperbeck), but the most glaring hole seems to be up front.
The Broncos are breaking in three first-year starters on the offensive line and that was more evident than anything else in a season-opening win over Troy. The Trojans got four free shots at BSU quarterback Brett Rypien, and the Broncos’ front five accounted for four of the team’s seven penalties.
“They take what they’ve learned in previous games, I think they’ve applied it to practice,” Broncos coach Bryan Harsin told Boise media earlier in the week. “We just have to play faster and more consistent. The O-line, it’s really about consistency. You’ve got five guys that have got to do their jobs and do it just right. They’ve got to work together.”
The Broncos rolled out Rypien to start the season opener, but threw a changeup in the second quarter when they replaced the third-year starter – a Spokane native and Shadle Park grad – with Montell Cozart. Cozart, a graduate transfer from Kansas, led BSU on two late touchdown drives to help seal a 24-13 win.
Rypien will start against WSU, but Harsin won’t be hesitant to bring the more mobile Cozart from the bullpen if he thinks it’s necessary.
The added dimension to BSU’s offense means an added dimension to the Cougars’ game-planning.
“I think that’s part of the mindset of an opponent,” WSU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “It makes sense, if you have two guys that are capable – which based on our video study, it certainly appears is if they have two that are – it’s a headache. There’s a reason to do it and it poses a challenge.”
The Broncos might actually prefer to prepare for two quarterbacks, than prepare for the lone signal-caller they’ll see on Saturday. Falk became WSU’s all-time leader with his 92nd touchdown pass in a 31-0 win over Montana State and should easily hop Connor Halliday for the most passing yards in school history, so long as he throws for throws for at least 101 against BSU.
Granted, the Broncos should be a confident bunch after holding Troy – no slouch of an FBS mid-major – without a touchdown in the 2017 opener.
BSU is also on an impressive run against the Pac-12. They’ve won four straight dating back to 2014. Last season the Broncos defeated more Pac-12 teams than did Arizona.
“I think they’re able to zero in in a fashion some of those Pac-12 wins aren’t,” Leach said on Monday. “(In the) Pac-12, you play a lot of good teams, so I think that’s one luxury there. The other thing is I think they played well and prepared well.”