PULLMAN – Mike Leach’s offense is rarely characterized as pedestrian, so it’s understandable why the Washington State coach was half-irked with the Cougars’ 31-0 win over San Jose State Saturday night at Martin Stadium.
This season, there are 130 teams playing in the Football Subdivision, and slightly more than half of those are scoring better than 31 points per game, while the other 57 are all averaging less. Kentucky and Coastal Carolina are tied for No. 72 in the country, each averaging 31 ppg on the dot.
So, by those numbers, the Cougars were just an average offense in their home opener and probably less than average if you’re grading on the San Jose State curve. Only three teams in the country conceded more points per game last season than the Spartans, who should’ve been elated with their defensive efforts in Pullman, considering 12 of their prior 15 opponents had scored more than 31 points and only two of those – Utah and Texas – wear the same “Power Five” designation as WSU.
“I thought we had a good first half, I was not impressed with our second half,” Leach said after Saturday’s game. “I thought some of our young receivers need to become tougher people, I think we’re fairly soft at that position right now. I thought up front we played a decent first half, we weren’t very tough the second half. And then the running backs, we could probably get a fast seventh-grader and hit the hole as fast as they did.”
Leach’s case study on Saturday was sophomore receiver Tay Martin, whom the coach often praises for his devotion to the game and tireless work ethic, which, combined with heaps of God-given ability, made Martin the Cougars’ best wide receiver by the end of his freshman season.
So, when a hard worker like Martin starts to become sluggish, there’s a good chance many of his offensive teammates are already lagging as well. The outside “X” receiver caught four passes, including two touchdowns, in the first quarter, but had only two more catches the rest of the way and not necessarily because quarterback Gardner Minshew wasn’t looking for him.
“I thought he had a few good catches and then he went dormant and he didn’t do anything,” Leach said of Martin. “Then he felt like his work was done. He’s right there in the pile of, no higher or no lower than anybody else in the second half regarding receivers. He was invisible the second half.”
Commenting on the gradual decline of the offense as a whole, wide receiver Travell Harris said, “The defense picked us up, but at the same time we just have to go out there and execute. We feel like we had too many three-and-outs, but at the same time we just play ball. Just stick true to the cause and just trust each other and have fun.”
“Get tougher” will be a big part of this week’s message, too, as WSU prepares to play an FCS Eastern Washington team that isn’t a slouch and always seems to raise its level of play when the Cougars are on the other sideline.
Leach’s toughness spiel has become an almost-annual occurrence, usually delivered in the early stages of the season when the Cougars are still trying to form an identity and many of their young players are still learning what type of effort is required to succeed at this level, simultaneously discovering their skill and talent are no longer enough to get them by.
But Leach can take some comfort in knowing the message generally gets through. Rarely do the Cougars lose their toughness after one of his impassioned lectures, and they’re often at their best the week after.
When Leach called them out two years ago after a loss at Boise State – likening their mentality to that of “a JC softball team” – WSU responded with a 56-6 win over Idaho the next week. Last season when the Cougars didn’t quite meet their coach’s standard despite beating the Broncos in triple-overtime, WSU followed up with a 52-23 Pac-12 win over Oregon State.
So, after scoring a mere 31 points against SJSU, Leach’s latest speech comes at a good time – perhaps for everyone but the EWU Eagles.
The Cougars received two fewer votes than they did last week in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, collecting just four after a 31-0 win over SJSU.
Five Pac-12 teams made Sunday’s edition of the AP Top 25. Washington dropped from No. 9 to No. 10 while Stanford moved from No. 10 to 9, Oregon moved up from No. 23 to No. 20, USC fell from No. 17 to No. 22 and Arizona State debuted at No. 23.