Mike Leach calls his team's toughness into question and says they practice better than they've been playing
New week, same storyline.
Washington State will begin practice this week once again trying to figure out why: 1) they start slow, and 2) what they have to fix to rebound from a second-straight loss to begin the year.
Running back Jamal Morrow summarized the Cougs’ offensive woes against Boise State thusly: “Us not finishing plays, finishing drives. We’re moving the ball down the field, just not able to capitalize on possessions, and that kinda hurts you in a game like this.”
The Cougars’ offense had an especially rough outing against Boise State. They put up 520 offensive yards to Boise State’s 420, yet averaged only 5.7 yards per play, and were 11-of-22 on third downs, and 2-of-5 on fourth downs.
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The offensive line did well in pass protection, giving quarterback Luke Falk ample time on most plays, but left guard Cody O’Connell said Saturday night that they could have done better in run blocking.
Falk set a career high with 55 completions out of 71 pass attempts for 480 yards, with four touchdown passes and an interception. But he also missed a couple of throws and had some balls float on him. The Broncos played a cover 4 scheme and took measures to key on Gabe Marks for most of the game, holding Marks to 10 receptions for 75 yards, and suffocating him after the catch. They rushed three or four men for a large chunk of the game, and kept the rest of the defense back in coverage to limit WSU’s passing game.
Morrow led the Cougs in rushing, but that’s not saying much because he averaged 2.8 yards per carry on eight rush attempts for a net of 22 yards.
Morrow said the Cougs came out flat, surprising because, after the previous week’s defeat to Eastern Washington, all anyone on the team talked about – at least publicly – in the lead up to the Boise State game was the need to be more focused.
Yet, “we just came out flat, didn’t respond to adversity really well,” Morrow said. “It took us too long to get started and when we did, it was too late.”
What accounts for these “flat” starts?
“I have no idea,” said Morrow. “We just started on the wrong foot.”
WSU coach Mike Leach’s interpretation of the situation is simply that his team is soft.
“The biggest thing is that we’re not as tough as we need to be. … We’re a team that works hard, we’re a team that lifts a lot of weights, we run a lot of sprints, we try really hard in practice,” Leach said. “It’s like a boxer, if he’s really good at hitting the bag because he wants to be a great boxer, so he’s good at hitting the bag. And all of a sudden he gets in a boxing match and he won’t throw any blows. That’s who we are.”
Multiple WSU coaches told the media after the EWU loss that the mistakes WSU made during that first game against the Eagles and the way the Cougars played, were uncharacteristic of the way they’d practiced in the months leading up to the game.
On Saturday night, after losing 31-28 to Boise State at Albertsons Stadium, Leach echoed that sentiment, insinuating that right now, the Cougs are better practice players than “game” players.
“Collectively, somehow (the players) think they worked hard in the weight room and they worked hard in practice, and they think their work is done,” Leach said. “It’s not done. It just primes you to be in good position to do it out here during the game. I think we embrace practice more than we do games.”
No one play cost the Cougars a win against Boise State because they dealt with an assortment of problems in all three phases throughout the course of the game.
But, it’s worth noting that for the second week in a row, the Cougs lost a game by three points, and for the second week in a row, WSU kicker Erik Powell missed a field goal.
Powell’s 39-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter ended up being the difference maker in the final score. The kick was blocked by Boise State’s Sam McCaskill and Powell is now 0-for-2 on field goals to start the season.
“I didn’t think we got the ball up very good,” Leach said Saturday night, adding that he wanted to review the film to get a better look. “I thought we had push, but I thought our linemen need to be, again, tougher. It’s a field goal. Be tougher. Control the line of scrimmage.
“I didn’t think we got the ball up very quick either.”
Did the block influence Leach’s decision late in the second half to press for touchdowns instead of taking some field goal attempts?
“Not really,” Leach said, before hinting that Powell also needed to hone in on his mental toughness. “We got easy field goals and we can certainly hit them from (WSU’s fall camp site in Lewiston, Idaho) Sacajawea Middle School. But we can’t hit them in the stadium? Again, toughness.”