SPOKANE — Coach Mike Leach is best known as an offensive guru, but Washington State has jumped to a 3-1 record this season largely on the strength of its defense.
That’s no surprise to cornerback Nolan Washington.
“We set a goal this offseason that we wanted to be a top-10 defense,” Washington said this week.
A 42-0 shutout of Idaho last weekend showed the Cougars are on the right track as they prepare to face No. 5 Stanford (3-0, 1-0 Pac-12) on Saturday. It was Washington State’s first shutout since the 2003 season.
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Through four games, the Cougars (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12) are allowing an average of 12 points and about 260 yards per game. They have not allowed a touchdown in the second half.
In a 10-7 upset of Southern California, Washington State’s only touchdown was scored on an interception return. The Cougars crushed Southern Utah 48-10. Their only loss was in the season opener, 31-24, at Auburn.
Leach certainly values his defense. He kept his starters in the game late in the blowout of Idaho in order to preserve the shutout.
“There hadn’t been a shutout in a long time, and nothing’s more important to a defense than a shutout,” Leach said. “That’s kind of a major goal, and that’s what you take a lot of pride in.”
The three wins this year already equal the total from last year’s 3-9 season.
Washington State’s explosive offense is also clicking.
The Cougars are averaging 31 points per game behind the passing of Connor Halliday. Against Idaho, Halliday threw for four touchdowns for the sixth time in his career, tying Ryan Leaf for the most by a Washington State quarterback.
Running back Jeremiah Laufasa, who scored two touchdowns against Idaho, said this year’s team is different mentally from last year’s.
“We expect to make plays,” Laufasa said.
Some players have been critical of playing a home game off-campus in Seattle, but Washington is not among them.
“Football is football,” Washington said.
“I’d play in a desert if they told us we had to,” added linebacker Darryl Monroe.
• Stanford senior Ed Reynolds will sit out the first half against Washington State for targeting. The Cardinal also announced that senior left guard David Yankey will not play, saying he is dealing with a personal matter. Joshua Garnett of Puyallup High School will start in his place.
Reynolds was ejected from last Saturday’s 42-28 victory over Arizona State after lowering his head and hitting Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly in the helmet.