MIKE LEACH and CONNOR HALLIDAY
PULLMAN – One year ago, Mike Leach frequently railed about the inability of his players to compete, truly compete, when faced with adversity. For six games this season, Leach had nothing but compliments for the way his players competed, win or lose. On Saturday night, however, he unloaded on Washington State players after Oregon State scored the final 35 points in a 52-24 romp at Martin Stadium.
“It can’t be physical,” Mike Leach barked at his post-game press conference. “It has to all be psychological, and we have to be tough enough to manage that.
“I mean, how can you play like we did for two-thirds of it (the game), and then the other third just let it unravel like that?”
All five Washington State possessions in the fourth quarter ended on turnovers. Quarterback Connor Halliday was benched after throwing three interceptions on the first three possessions and five plays of the quarter.
“I thought he gave in,” Leach said. The coach quickly added, “It certainly wasn’t just Connor. We came out stormin’ in the third quarter. For two-thirds of the game, we played about as well as we can play.
“Then the last third, we faced adversity and waved the white flag.”
The Cougars, playing before a sellout crowd on Dad’s Weekend, were leading 24-17 in a highly entertaining contest before an apparent fake punt attempt went awry late in the third quarter. WSU recovered the ball after Alex Den Bleyker’s snap bounced off stunned up back Jared Byars, but it took the Beavers just two plays to score from 27 yards out to forge the fourth tie of the game.
“It was miscommunication … it was basically my fault,” Leach said. “We had two things going there, and I allowed it to happen.”
Asked what those “two things” might be, Leach growled, “None of your business.”
LEACH HAD GOOD reason to be in a foul mood. The Cougars blew a game they had an excellent chance to win before a rare sellout crowd, and now they must travel to Eugene to play unbeaten, second-ranked Oregon next Saturday (7 p.m., FOX Sports 1).
The Cougars have lost six straight to Oregon. Leach, as always, preaches the need for his players to move on, win or lose, and worry about themselves more than the opposition as they prepare to play in front of Oregon’s notoriously rowdy fans.
“We need to worry about being the best team we can be,” Leach said. “That would be one thing that we quit doing about two-third in (Saturday).
“We quit worrying about being the best team we can be, and so then we squandered one play after play after play.”
WSU players also stressed the need to stay focused after the team’s second blowout loss in three games.
“It’s not the end of the year,” center Elliott Bosch said. “We’ve got a lot of games left. It’s one bad game.”
“We’re a mentally strong team,” safety Deone Bucannon said. “We’ll go into the next game, we’re not going to think about this game.”
But the Cougars couldn’t stop thinking about this game immediately afterwards.
“We let them win that game,” running back Marcus Mason said. “We should have won that game and we should have won it by a lot.”
“It’s really disappointing because it’s a game we should have won,” Bosch agreed. “We were competing really well. We played 2 1-2 good quarters and we kind of explode like that and it’s a landslide.”
Asked to identify the most important thing the Cougars can take out of the loss, Mason said, “Just not everyone trying to be the super hero. We’ve just got to go out and play our game, because so far, the way we’ve played this year, no one’s been able to stop us. We’ve only been able to stop ourselves.”
Saturday’s late collapse supported Mason’s statement, particularly with regard to WSU’s offensive players.
“For two-thirds of the game, I thought they played really well,” Leach said. “For one-third of the game, they played about as bad as it was possible to play.”
OBVIOUSLY, WSU'S DEFENSE also deserves a good part of the blame, since the Beavers racked up 52 points, 496 passing yards and 598 total yards. Big pass plays continue to haunt the Cougars, who led the nation in pass defense earlier this season. WSU was unable to put much pressure at all on OSU quarterback Sean Mannion.
“In a lot of cases, our coverages just broke down,” Bucannon said.
In defense of the defense, turnovers, especially in the fourth quarter, gave the Beavers good field position. Also, the Cougars were facing the leading passer (Sean Mannion) and receiver (Brandin Cooks) in the nation, and both players put on dazzling performances.