The Cougars are favored by more than five touchdowns against San Jose State. "The biggest thing is to focus on your work," Leach said about avoiding a letdown.
So much for the predictions of the demise of the Washington State football program.
Despite losing many of their top players and coaches from last season, the Cougars had perhaps the Pac-12’s most impressive victory last weekend, winning 41-19 at Wyoming on Saturday in a game the Cougars were favored to win by a point.
Now comes Saturday’s home opener, against an opponent in San Jose State that the Cougars are favored to beat by 35 1/2 points. So what is WSU coach Mike Leach doing to make sure his team remains as focused as it was in Laramie?
“The biggest thing is to just focus on your work,” Leach said Tuesday. “The most important thing for any team, no matter who you play, is to worry about yourselves and try to get better. We need to get a week better this week. We need to utilize this week to get a week better, and that’s what we need to focus on.”
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San Jose State opened its season with a 44-38 loss on Thursday to UC Davis, which plays a level below in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA I-AA). San Jose State used three different quarterbacks and gained 506 yards. But the Spartans defense allowed 589.
Leach spent the past two nights watching film of this week’s opponent.
“They’ve got some explosive guys,” Leach said Monday about San Jose State. “Early in the season, they are trying to find their identity like everyone else.”
The bigger challenge for the Cougars this week is seemingly on defense, which will have to be ready for at least a couple of quarterbacks.
Josh Love started for San Jose State against UC Davis, completing 14 0f 29 passes for 109 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Montel Aaron was much more effective, completing 13 0f 19 attempts for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Carrillo played briefly, completing 1 of 4 passes for 2 yards.
“(Defensive coordinator) Tracy (Claeys) is very clever, and we will let him sort out how to stop them,” Leach said.
The Cougars are likely to face some adversity at some point Saturday — even in a game they are supposed to win by more than five touchdowns — and if last Saturday is any indication, they will be just fine. After the Cougars started fast, Wyoming outscored WSU 14-3 in the second quarter to take a 16-13 halftime lead, and that went to 19-13 after the Cowboys’ opening drive of the second half.
“The biggest thing is you got to punch your way out of it,” Leach said. “Just everybody’s got do their job and punch your way out of it, which I thought we did, and I thought it was impressive we did it with a young team like we have.
“Players and coaches, there wasn’t a lot of panic out there, which I thought was very beneficial, especially for a young team in its first game.”
Leach was encouraged with what he saw from both the offensive and defensive lines, which both have several new players. And the team’s new quarterback, graduate transfer Gardner Minshew, exceeded expectations.
“I thought he did a good job, and I thought he got better as the game went on,” Leach said. “I thought he did a good job leading the unit. We thought he would do well, we really did, but I thought getting in sync in the fashion that he did was a pleasant surprise.”
Now the challenge for the entire team is to be even better this week.
“It’s good to be home, it’s good to be playing San Jose and we are looking forward to getting a week better,” Leach said.