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Young, developing Cougars hit needed bye week

After seven consecutive night games to open the season, Washington State finally has a bye week. It will be a good opportunity for the Cougars, who are starting to look a little beat up, to get off their feet for a few days and for the coaches to hit the road and do some recruiting.

If the Cougars could do some aging over the next two weeks that would be good, too, because Mike Leach has decided that it’s time for the Cougars to stop being young.

After early losses to Rutgers and Nevada, Leach matter-of-factly recognized the difficulty of going against teams with older starters at a number of positions and significantly older depth.

The Cougars have debuted 23 players this season and are starting a true sophomore, two redshirt freshman and a true freshman in the secondary. That lack of experience has hung over the team for the first seven games – not excuses, really, just realities that helped to explain why close plays seemed to break against WSU more often than not.

“We’ve just got a lot of guys right now that haven’t played Pac-12 football,” quarterback Connor Halliday said. “They don’t know quite what it takes to win.”

But after a 34-17 loss to Stanford, Leach indicated that with the season more than half over, nobody on the team is too inexperienced to play better.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys that could be really good players down the road, but they’re close to being better players than they are right now,” Leach said. “And we as coaches got to make that happen.”

So, there’s no time like the present for WSU’s underclassmen to mature.

Coming into this season the offensive line and defensive backfield were the two areas where the youth was most glaring. The offensive line has mostly exceeded expectations. Could it be better? Of course.

The young O-line was schooled by Stanford’s physical defense and it commits too many penalties.

But despite three new starters the offensive line is the best it’s been since Leach arrived in both run and pass blocking, and it’s not especially close.

The secondary has been even younger than expected, with redshirt freshman Charleston White overtaking a senior for a starting cornerback spot and true freshman Sulaiman Hameed doing the same thing to a junior at safety. The two played well initially, perhaps unsustainably well. Hameed was a revelation in his first college action against Oregon and played well the next week against Utah. White had a pair of key pass breakups on fourth downs at Utah and entered this weekend leading the country in breakups per game.

Hameed missed the California game and looked confused at times against Stanford, however, and the Golden Bears picked on White during that game’s passing eruption.

They were young then, they’ll be young in two weeks, but at 2-5 with a tough schedule going forward, the Cougars no longer care.

“They’re young, but they’re talented. They need to grow up and realize we don’t have time for them to be freshmen,” Halliday said. “We don’t have time for them to make freshman mistakes. They need to grow up and make some plays for us.”

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