PULLMAN – Mike Leach caught himself as the Washington State coach described a meeting the Cougars held Tuesday afternoon prior to their regularly scheduled practice at Rogers Field.
The meeting was already on the daily agenda, but it went longer than usual, pushing WSU’s 3:30 p.m. practice back almost a full hour. So Leach didn’t meet with reporters until nearly 7.
“It was nothing urgent really, as far as …” Leach started to explain, before backtracking. “I mean, it’s all urgent. But no, the meeting went long and we wanted to make sure we covered some material. So we started (practice) later.”
If the word “urgency” hasn’t already been painted in all caps and bold lettering on the doorway of WSU’s locker room, on every wall inside the weight room and across the crown of every helmet, it probably isn’t being emphasized enough.
The Cougars, who sit at 4-5 overall and 1-5 in Pac-12 play, haven’t given themselves much of a buffer when it comes to postseason eligibility. They require wins in two of their final three games to clinch a bowl berth for a fifth straight year.
Splitting the next two, at home Saturday against Stanford (4-5, 3-4) and Nov. 23 against Oregon State (4-5, 3-3), wouldn’t be the recommended path, considering the Cougars close the year against Washington (6-4, 3-4) in Seattle. The Cougars haven’t won there in 12 years and project to be a heavy underdog in the wake of a six-game losing streak to the Huskies.
Quarterback Anthony Gordon said “urgency” hasn’t necessarily been a buzz word around the football operations building since WSU returned from Berkeley, but it was also the term he used – and used unprompted – to describe how the Cougars went about their business on the practice field Tuesday night.
“It was definitely more spirited,” Gordon said. “I wouldn’t say we got more done than usual, just did it in a little bit more quicker tempo, a little bit quicker pace. A little bit more urgency. You love to see that. People moving around with more of a purpose, encouraging others, letting people know when they made a good play, encouraging people when they made a bad play. So just a lot of positive reinforcement and getting the energy good out there.”
A follow-up question prompted Gordon to say, “I’m not sure (urgency) has been the key word. I just think collectively as a group we need to be a bit more urgent and realize we’re letting opportunities go by the wayside, so we need to buckle down and take advantage of these next three opportunities we have in front of us.”
For Leach and his staff, the tallest challenge these next three weeks may not be to form a perfect blueprint to beat the Cardinal, Beavers and Huskies, but to ensure they aren’t talking about blown opportunities, bad turnovers and mindless errors after each game.
The Cougars may lose one or all three contests, but they’ll probably live with the results if they’re converting on third down, avoiding penalties on the offensive line, eliminate explosive plays on defense and taking the ball away more than they’re giving it up.
Granted, if they manage to do all of that, bowl eligibility shouldn’t be a question – especially with the Cougars playing their next two games at Martin Stadium, where they’ve gone 22-1 in their last 23 games against opponents not named Washington.
“We have to be a reliable, consistent team,” Leach said, “and as coaches we have to get it out of them.”