Leach wants 'cookie crumbling' vibe to go

GABE MARKS

STAY POSITIVE. That is the message Washington State coach Mike Leach is emphasizing after Saturday's stunning 35-34 loss against Colorado in the Pac-12 opener at Martin Stadium. Leach discussed that, the 7:30 p.m. Saturday contest against Oregon at CenturyLink Field and the emergence of a couple of freshmen during his Monday teleconference.

Leach said the Cougars (2-2 overall, 0-1 conference) need to maintain the same mentality regardless of what the score is. WSU blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead against the previously winless Buffaloes (1-3, 1-0).

"We're pretty good at doing it when things are going our way," Leach said. "It just can't be selective when things are going your way. That's too easy."

In addition to a "cookie crumbling" mentality that Leach feels has affected too many players, he said consistency remains a challenge on both sides of the ball. Leach said the offense played well during the first half and the defense was strong during the third quarter. But outside of that, both units struggled.

"We want it to be a habit that you string things together for 60 minutes," he said.

Leach noted that quarterback Connor Halliday and BUCK linebacker Travis Long took the setback particularly hard, but he feels others did not. He cited defensive-line coach Joe Salave'a, who played eight seasons in the NFL, as a reason for his athletes to compete on every down.

"Joe Salave'a played more snaps than anyone in the room and he would like more," Leach said. "You only get a few."

Leach dismissed criticism he has received from fans and the media for his fourth-quarter play calling, particularly the decision to eschew a field-goal attempt on fourth-and-3 at Colorado's 19-yard line with a 31-14 lead. Connor Halliday, who completed 32 of 60 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns, was intercepted by linebacker Jon Major on that play. Leach said the play had a high probability of success, while adding that he finds it "funny" that some feel a field-goal attempt is guaranteed to be successful.

"I really don't have any second guesses about going for it," he said.

Some also felt that WSU, which passed the ball 75 percent of the time, did not run enough to effectively manage the clock late in the game.

"The clock's pretty easy if you move the sticks," Leach said.

That does not mean Leach feels he does not deserve criticism. He noted that Halliday missed some throws underneath that were available.

"I should've done a better job of communicating with Connor," Leach said. "[At times] he pressed and tried to make too much happen. I should've reigned him in a bit."

He said he remains confident that the Cougars' issues are fixable.

"Every year there's struggles like this," Leach said. "We'll work through it."

ACCOMPLISHING THAT AGAINST the No. 2 Ducks (4-0, 1-0), and their offense that averages 571 yards per game, which ranks third among Football Bowl Subdivision programs, is a significant challenge. While Oregon coach Chip Kelly runs an offense that is much more run-oriented than the Air Raid, Leach sees similarities between the schemes. He said both systems try to attack all angles available on the field.

"They really prey on guys who don't get lined up quickly," Leach said. "They've always valued execution over a bunch of tricks."

This will mark WSU's 10th appearance as the home team at CenturyLink Field. The Cougars first played there in 2002 against Nevada and have continued that every year with the exception of 2010. The series against the Oregon schools in Seattle began last year. Leach said his preference always is to play at Martin Stadium, but added that he understands the value of playing in Seattle.

"This state is full of Cougar fans," he said. "I'm really impressed when I go over there. There's flags all over the place."

When players trail the crimson flag onto the field Saturday, Leach did not say whether Halliday or senior Jeff Tuel will start. Halliday has started the last two games since Tuel suffered a knee injury Sept. 8 against Eastern Washington. But one will have the opportunity to throw to true freshman Gabe Marks, who has emerged as a starting inside wide receiver. Leach said Marks, who had 107 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions against CU, initially was targeted as an outside wide receiver.

"We just want to get the top four on the field as much as possible," said Leach, adding that consists of Brett Bartolone, Marks, Isiah Myers and Marquess Wilson. "Marks is a really smart guy. He has a real sense of how to play receiver and set up routes."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Leach does not discuss injuries, but offered an explanation for his persistent cough during the teleconference. "I've been fighting forest fires all morning," he said.
  • WSU was cited for an illegal substitution penalty on the Buffaloes' winning drive. After reviewing the game tape, Leach said the call was incorrect. He said CU also should have been assessed a penalty because they were not lined up correctly when quarterback Jordan Webb took the snap.
  • Freshman defensive lineman Xavier Cooper had three tackles-for-loss against the Buffaloes. Leach said he still needs to work on his execution, but likes Cooper's potential because his work ethic.
  • Leach was asked by a student when his friend, actor Matthew McConaughey, would visit the Palouse. "I don't know," he said. "He's having a lot of fun with the pirate sword I gave him. Maybe when the newness of that wears off."

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