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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cougars need to chill, not freeze

PULLMAN – During the crucial periods of Washington State’s 59-37 loss to Arizona on Saturday – the beginning of the first quarter when the game was still in doubt and early in the third quarter when uncertainty briefly resurfaced – the Cougars locked up. Mike Leach said the team wasn’t suffering from a lack of focus or the effort issues that have afflicted the program in the past. Rather, the Cougars might just need to chill out. It’s been one month exactly since the Cougars last won a game and the desire to get back in the win column has the Cougars trying to do so much they locked up, played tentatively and didn’t do much of anything while the game was close. “I think they want to play real well and be as precise and specific as possible and everything, and as a result just created a level of hesitation,” Leach said after the game. Frequently, that hesitation allows the other team to stake an early lead, causing the Cougars to overcompensate by trying to make big plays. “I think that’s something that I battle, getting down a bunch and trying to make too much happen,” quarterback Connor Halliday said. “We tried to go out there and score 14 points every play, and we should have focused a little more on making a completion, that type of thing,” Leach said. Thanks to last year’s bowl game, the team began the season saddled with external expectations that haven’t existed around WSU since the Jason Gesser days. Trying to justify those expectations may have caused WSU’s seemingly erratic play at times, and it’s gotten harder as the season’s gone on. WSU averaged just 2.39 yards per play when they were within three touchdowns of Arizona – a difficult deficit to overcome, but not an impossible one as the Cougars proved when they came back from that margin to win at Utah, another game in which WSU played tense early. But when the game was out of reach and the Wildcats were up by more than three touchdowns, the Cougars averaged 6.42 yards per play. Of course, those numbers are affected by what Arizona’s defense does with a comfortable lead compared to a close game. But the sizable difference illustrates how poorly the offense performed when the game was tight. Against Stanford, in what Halliday termed a “must-win situation,” the Cougars gained just 12 yards on their first offensive series and punted on five of their next six offensive drives. The Cougars have been trying to figure out how to perform better at the start since their first game of season against Rutgers. The answer may be to simply stop worrying about it.
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