PULLMAN – Well, whatever you do, don’t give a Mike Leach-coached team two weeks to prepare for an opponent.
At least not these last two weeks.
Not only should Washington State burn the tape from Saturday’s 59-37 debacle at the hands of Arizona, the Cougars might want to toss the practice and game plans, transcripts of any motivational speeches, coaches’ pay stubs and menus from the players’ cafeteria on the pyre, as well.
Whatever the Cougars did by way of preparation for their core melt on Bad’s Day – sorry, dads – was apparently as ill-considered as, say, it would be to book a Chief Keef concert and not a safe fossil band to entertain the male parentals on Friday night.
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t give this Leach team a little momentum and an entire halftime to regroup and refocus.
Because these Cougs can turn a still-in-it two-touchdown deficit into a four-score no-hoper in less than five minutes.
OK, perhaps that’s erring on the harsh side in assessing the Cougars of 2014. To be fair, they have been all over the map in digging their way to desperation. They have lost by way of puzzling underachievement (Rutgers, Nevada), by valiant near-miss as an overmatched underdog (Oregon), by self-inflicted wound and referee scroogie (Cal) and by that overmatched thing again (Stanford). The unmitigated wipeout hadn’t truly reared its head until Saturday afternoon.
Experiencing one has come to be pretty much a core requirement for undergrads, so it’s best that it happened with dads on campus to pick up the tab for the necessary liquid solace.
Summarizing what went wrong can make for lengthy cataloguing or shorthand math.
The math? A 31-0 deficit, with the game not even a quarter-and-a-half old.
This was made possible by two desultory three-and-outs by the Wazzu offense, a fourth-down flop that gave Arizona a short field, a Connor Halliday interception (he had two, and several more could-have-beens) and the Cougar defense’s innate inability to stop run or pass. All that, and an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown by Arizona’s DaVonte Neal.
The Cougs would get it together briefly before halftime – a couple touchdowns, an actual defensive stop – before it all went to hell again, culminating in an onside kick that Arizona ran back for a touchdown, even as Wazzu committed not one but two penalties.
Good thing Leach got rid of the special teams coach a few weeks ago. Maybe he can hire the youngster they picked Saturday to fetch the tee off the field after kickoffs.
Some of the defensive issues are being pinned on too many players being just a few months removed from their proms – and, yes, the newbies keep on coming. When callow Pat Porter was repeatedly picked on at cornerback, another true freshman, Kevin Griffin, had his redshirt burned in relief. Peyton Pelluer got his first start at linebacker. Willie Roach and Beau Glover? Walk-ons both, and they’re in the mix now. The list grows with each game.
Some of this is necessitated by injuries. And some of it is staff choice.
But Leach also insisted that “if we did better in the secondary, shutting down that underneath stuff, which I think we should have, we would have been able to generate more pass rush. They were content to pick us apart underneath because we gave them so much space there.”
Which seems like an adjustment that could have been made when the score was, oh, 17-0. Or that, too, was a choice.
Now there’s only one question that remains. OK, two questions: Who gets fired this week, and where do the Cougs go from here?
When the Cougs lost three straight in ugly fashion last October, they were roundly written off – and then rallied to play themselves into a bowl. But they had two extra wins to play with then that they futzed away this fall – and all Leach has to fall back on is a tired directive he began delivering in 2012 that apparently still hasn’t taken hold.
“We’re too quick to react to the positive or the negative of the last play,” he said, “in this game typically the negative of the last play. We need to move past that and work toward the next play … we focus a little too much on the end result we hope for.”
Well, that’s only human. For example, here in Year 3 of Leach’s tenure, our homework tells us the Cougs have paid their coach in the neighborhood of $659,000 for each of his 11 wins. The previous guy pocketed about $27,000 for the nine victories he delivered. Something to chew on for the end-result hopers.
But, in fact, most WSU players insist they are getting Leach’s live-in-the-now message.
“We really do not look at the scoreboard,” said receiver Vince Mayle.
Maybe that’s a good suggestion for the customers, too.
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