Junior Connor Halliday, who completed 24 of 36 passes for 184 yards and an interception against the Cardinal, was knocked out of that game during the third quarter with what appeared to be an ankle injury. Leach said he “expected” Halliday to practice Sunday -- and that occurred. Leach then was asked if he expects Halliday to play at California.
“We’ve already covered that pretty thoroughly,” he said.
Halliday was replaced by redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca, who completed 15 of 29 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. When Apodaca had to be helped off the field after a third-down play during the third quarter, it appeared the Cougars (3-2 overall, 1-1 Pac-12) might have been forced to play true freshman Tyler Bruggman or insert walk on Luke Falk. But Leach said afterward that Halliday could have reentered the game. He reiterated Monday that using Bruggman at that juncture was not a consideration.
“We had plenty of guys who could play, so we were in pretty good shape,” Leach said.
Apodaca was able to return on the ensuing drive and garnered some attention for his unconventional, sidearm throwing motion. But Leach said Apodaca’s mechanics are not concerning. He said he was impressed that Apodaca rebounded from “two bad series” and displayed his leadership ability.
Apodaca, Leach said, quickly assimilated with his teammates during spring practices when he competed with Halliday for the starting job.
“He did an admirable job -- that everyone expected,” he said. “I think he’s gotten better and better.”
Leach reiterated that effort was not an issue against Stanford.
“I thought they all had pretty good effort,” he said. “I think we’re a highly motivated team. It wasn’t a lack of effort — it was trying too hard.”
SENIOR PUNTER Mike Bowlin again struggled Saturday. He averaged 39.3 yards on seven punts against the Cardinal, but that statistic is somewhat misleading -- some kicks generated favorable bounces. Leach said Bowlin will be “competing with several others for the job this week.” He said the 6-foot-4 Bowlin’s struggles are difficult to pinpoint.
“That is kind of a $64-million question around here,” Leach said. “Really the most important thing is for him is to see the ball.”
Bowlin is not the only WSU player to draw negative attention for his performance against Stanford. While 13 different players caught passes, several also dropped catchable balls. Juniors Isiah Myers and Bobby Ratliff both dropped third-down passes that would have resulted in first downs during the first half when it was still a game.
“I was disappointed,” Leach said. “It was one of those things where we were tight. We’re trying to make too much happen.”
Some have noted the importance of this game for WSU as California (1-3, 0-1) is the only team in the conference with a losing record. But Leach stressed that his greatest concern is for the Cougars to continue to improve.
“I wish I had something really flashy [to tell] you guys,” he said.
While the Golden Bears’ record is poor, it comes with the caveat that all three losses — Northwestern, Ohio State and 55-16 on Saturday at Oregon — have occurred against ranked opponents. California’s lone win was 37-30 on Sept. 7 versus Portland State.
“They’re always athletic,” Leach said. “They’re getting a lot better. They’ve played some tough opponents, as well.”
California coach Sonny Dykes was a graduate assistant under Leach at Kentucky and also worked for him from 2000-06 at Texas Tech. Dykes guided Louisiana Tech to a 22-15 record in three seasons before being hired to replace Jeff Tedford in December.
Dykes runs his version of the Air Raid offense, and Leach said its' similar to the one he uses. He said one difference is Dykes’ system is that it's a little quicker between snaps.
Officially, WSU’s annual game in Seattle is a home contest, but Leach said he does not think of it that way. “It’s an away game,” he said. “We have some great Cougars over there in Seattle who we get to share the experience with, which is good. But you pack up and go to a motel, which has the qualities of a road game.”
True freshman walk-on wide receiver John Thompson, who played at Bethel High, had two receptions against Stanford. Thompson briefly practiced with the first-team during fall camp, and Leach continues to be impressed with his play. “I’ve been amazed with how quickly he’s picked things up,” he said. “I was pleasantly surprised.”