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Sports >  WSU football

Mike Leach praises Washington State DBs for grit and toughness against Stanford’s imposing WRs

Washington State Cougars cornerback Marcus Strong (4) breaks up a Stanford pass before the first half of a college football game on Saturday, October 27, 2018, at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars cornerback Marcus Strong (4) breaks up a Stanford pass before the first half of a college football game on Saturday, October 27, 2018, at Stanford Stadium in Stanford, Calif. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – Mike Leach thought his defensive backs handled themselves well Saturday, even if they were constantly picked on by three Stanford pass-catchers who looked just as capable of forming an NBA frontcourt as they did a collegiate wide receiving corps.

“I thought we played really hard,” Leach said Monday during a weekly news conference. “I thought we were definitely sloppy at times, but we played very gritty and tough as a team.”

When JJ Arcega-Whiteside (6-3, 335), Kaden Smith (6-5, 252) and Trenton Irwin (6-2, 202) weren’t catching passes from quarterback K.J. Costello – between those three, there were 27 receptions for 303 yards and three touchdowns – they were often moving the chains by baiting WSU’s undersized defensive backs into pass interference penalties.

The starting cornerbacks, 5-foot-10 Darrien Molton and 5-foot-9 Marcus Strong, took the brunt of it and were each flagged twice for pass interference – penalties that amounted to 54 yards – on a day the Cougars were playing without Sean Harper Jr., who was absent from his second straight game with an undisclosed injury. Strong also had a personal foul penalty in the second quarter.

Thrown to the wolves time and time again, Molton and Strong conceded a number of big passing plays and didn’t provide much resistance on the three touchdowns that fell into the hands of Arcega-Whiteside, Smith and Irwin. On the day, Costello completed 34-of-43 passes for 323 yards and four TDs.

Nonetheless, Leach came out of the game relatively pleased with his defensive secondary, understanding the challenge Stanford presented.

“I thought we were pretty good,” he said. “I thought we were in position a lot. We busted, we had a couple busts that I thought were fairly large. I thought last game we played extremely hard and I’d say our coverage was somewhat similar to the rest of our team.”

Leach would urge Molton, Strong and the other Cougar DBs to play with better precision – and not try to overplay passes.

“Just stick with doing our job and there’s always that temptation to anticipate or make judgments on how a play’s going to unfold,” he said. “And we have to resist that temptation. I don’t think we always did, but I think whatever we did, we did extremely hard and without hesitation. So I think that was pretty accurate.”

It’s rare to have three players on the same roster as imposing as Arcega-Whiteside, Smith and Irwin, Leach also noted. Stanford’s receivers have caught 170 passes for 2,165 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Those three account for 74 percent of the catches, 78 percent of the yards and all but five of the TDs.

“If you’ve got one guy that big, then you can gang up on him a little bit, but they’re just big, huge receivers,” Leach said.

The WSU coach hesitated to make any specific remarks about the game’s officiating, but Leach did offer this: “Without getting myself in trouble, I thought some of the plays we had better technique than it showed.”

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