THE COUGARS’ OFFENSE produced its most yards of the season during Saturday’s 44-22 win at California, which led to a bevy of questions focused on that side of the ball during coach Mike Leach’s Monday teleconference. And they were not all directed at the play of junior quarterback Connor Halliday, whose 521 passing yards fell just 10 short of Alex Brink’s 2005 school record at Oregon State.
Leach liked several aspects of Saturday’s game, which saw the Cougars (4-2 overall, 2-1 Pac-12) open with consecutive conference road wins for the first time since 2006. But he maintains WSU, which hosts Oregon State at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, could have played better. The Cougars only converted 7 of 19 third-down opportunities against the Golden Bears.
“I thought we left a lot of plays and opportunities on the field,” said Leach, whose team produced 570 yards of total offense. “We need to be a more consistent team.”
WSU started two running backs, sophomore Teondray Caldwell and junior Marcus Mason, instead of putting the usual “H” inside receiver in to start Saturday’s game. Leach said his team has lacked consistency at that position as sophomore Brett Bartolone, who had 10 yards on two receptions, has struggled to duplicate his 2012 performance. He said junior Rickey Galvin, who had 48 yards on five receptions, had his “best game of the year,” but Leach expects several receivers to vie for the starting H position. Leach noted one of the Cougars’ outside receivers might vie for playing time inside.
Senior Vince Mayle, who had 113 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions, had his best game at WSU. He also had a key block on a screen pass to junior Marcus Mason that went 68 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s done a really good job of blocking,” Leach said of Mayle. “He made some really good plays — and some really big errors.”
He said the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Mayle is athletic enough to continue to improve. Leach believes he needs to utilize his athleticism and strength to become even more physical.
Mayle was not the only player to emerge in the receiving game. Mason, who had a 118 yards and a touchdown on four receptions, was the first Cougars’ running back to have 100 receiving yards in a game since Deon Burnett in 2000 at Arizona.
“I think it’s important to have distribution,” said Leach, whose team had a dozen different receivers catch passes at California. “Connor did a good job of getting it to the backs.”
WHILE WSU DID NOT run the ball effectively as it averaged just 2.3 yards per carry Saturday, Halliday only was sacked once. After starting the same offensive line for the first five games, the Cougars inserted senior Matt Goetz in at right guard with classmate John Fullington moving to right tackle. The move pushed senior Rico Forbes, who normally starts at right tackle, out of the lineup. Leach said the coaching staff has not to decided whether Goetz will start against the Beavers (4-1, 2-0).
“Goetz did a good job of pass blocking,” Leach said. “We need to get consistent practices out of him.”
Even though Halliday did not get hit a lot against the Golden Bears, he limped off the field after throwing a 35-yard touchdown pass to Mayle that gave WSU a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. Leach was asked about Halliday’s toughness.
“[He is] sort of,” he said. “He’s probably not half as tough as he thinks he is.”
Halliday had one of his worst collegiate games last year at OSU when he completed just 9 of 20 passes for 81 yards and was intercepted three times in the Cougars’ 19-6 loss. Leach said the Beavers, who were ranked 14th at the time, played well defensively. But he felt Halliday’s inexperience at the time was a larger issue.
“I think it had more to do with Connor’s development,” Leach said. “Going into Oregon State, he had never ... played that much.”
While much of the teleconference focused on WSU’s offense, Leach was asked about the Beavers’ passing offense. OSU averages 420.6 passing yards per game, which ranks second among Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Junior quarterback Sean Mannion has completed 160 of 238 passes for 2,018 yards, 21 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“It’s a concern because we’re undisciplined with our eyes,” said Leach, whose team allowed California freshman Jared Goff to completed 32 of 58 passes for 489 yards. “We give up big plays.”
Leach said former walk-on Mitchell Peterson, a junior safety who played at Spokane’s West Valley High School, has been put on scholarship. Peterson had one tackle against the Golden Bears and looked to be playing at linebacker (at least part of the time) at Cal.
“He’s one of the most versatile guys in terms of a lot of things,” Leach said. “We’ve known about him for more than a year.”