“We’ve got to be a mentally tougher team,” Mike Leach told a mob of reporters in the bowels of LaVell Edwards Stadium after his WSU coaching debut resulted in a 30-6 loss to Brigham Young.
“If something negative happens,” Leach continued, “we can’t have all these bassett-hound-looking faces on the sidelines…We’re too fragile. It’s too easy for us to get disappointed. I mean, we have to be a confident team.”
Thursday’s loss did nothing to boost the Cougars’ confidence. Rarely has a Leach-coached offense failed to score a touchdown. WSU’s offense consisted of a pair of Andrew Furney field goals in the second quarter.
“We squandered too many plays,” Leach said. “We’d get a play or two going that was pretty good and then we’d squander two more. We never really got into a rhythm.”
LEACH SAID HE never considered replacing Jeff Tuel with backup quarterback Connor Halliday. Asked if Tuel “definitely” will start in the Sept. 8 home opener with Eastern Washington, Leach was typically playful with the media.
“I don’t know,” he said, a sparkle in his eye. “You just stay riveted to your seat and I think you’ll have something exciting to look forward to next week.”
Both teams committed costly penalties – not unusual in a season opener – but only Washington State had a touchdown pass and a long bomb to inside the 5-yard line wiped out by holding calls. Both flags erased Tuel passes to Marquess Wilson.
“I think as a team we’re a lot closer (to succeeding) than we realize, because the good stuff is great,” Leach said. “But when also out of the blue you’ll see street ball out there. As coaches, we’ve got to have the ability to settle them down, the ability to not try to do too much. I thought we vacillated between playing frantic and then we’d play overly conscientious so that we’re trying to not make a mistake. At some point we’ve got to reach that happy medium where each play is separate and we just do you part on each play.”
Tuel, often scrambling superbly against heavy pressure, completed 30 of 45 passes for 229 yards and no touchdowns. He averaged just 5.1 yards per attempt, and his two interceptions led to a touchdown and a field goal.
“I can definitely play better,” Tuel said.
“He was inconsistent,” Leach said. “I thought he was sharp as far as who to throw it to, but just too slow. The operation was too slow … you have guys (receivers) tip-toeing through their routes.”
Leach also said the Cougars “need to play tougher up front on the offensive line.” Leach was sacked three times, and 16 carries resulted in minus-5 yards.
GLARING ERRORS IN the secondary resulted in all three Brigham Young touchdowns, all coming on pass plays.
WSU’s defense gave up nothing but two third-quarter field goals in the second half, and the first of those came after a strong defensive stand following a Tuel interception that cornerback Jordan Johnson returned 64 yards to the WSU 9-yard line.
“The first half, defensively, we couldn’t get lined up,” Leach said. “In the second half, when we did get lined up, we had a pretty nice second half defensively.
“We need to come out faster than we did today,” said strong safety Deone Bucannon, who led all players with 12 tackles. “I feel in the second half, we did a great job of playing defense, but that’s not enough.”
WASHINGTON STATE HELD BYU to 132 yards in the second half after giving up 294 yards in The Opening two quarters.
“To be honest, their offense caught us off guard,” Bucannon said, “because they were running different things that we haven’t seen on tape. But that’s no excuse. We should have just lined up in our base formation. We should have stuffed ’em in the mouth.”
That’s precisely what Bucannon plans to do against Eastern Washington.
“Our defense is a lot nastier and a lot meaner that what we showed today,” he said. “We’re going to show that next week.”
Tuel said WSU fans should also see an improved offense after Thursday’s struggles before a national television audience and a crowd of 57,045.
“It’s not the way we wanted to start the season,” Tuel said. “We know we’re a better team than that. We played too tight.”
The 30 completions and 45 attempts are career highs for Tuel, who moved up to eighth in WSU career completions (349) and 10th in passing yards (4,074).
Rickey Galvin, converted into a receiver after leading the Cougars in rushing last year as a redshirt freshman, caught a career-high six balls to lead the team.
True freshmen Taylor Taliulu (safety) and Gabe Marks (wide receiver) started for WSU. Another true freshman, Teondray Caldwell, returned the opening kickoff of the second half 63 yards.
Marks, who grabbed three balls for 16 yards, was one of 11 Cougars who caught a pass. Taliulu flew all over the field and made nine tackles, the most by a WSU freshman in his college debut since Chima Nwachukwu made nine at Wisconsin in 2007.
Travis Long, moved to BUCK linebacker after three years at defensive end, tied his career high with nine tackles.
Defensive lineman Xavier Cooper (foot) dressed but did not play.
Both of Furney’s field goals were longer than 40 yards. He’s kicked eight in a row from beyond 40, dating back to his freshman year of 2010.
Eastern Washington, ranked 12th in the Football Championship Subdivision, opened the season with a 20-3 win at Idaho on Thursday.