After WSU started off the season with an ugly 24-17 loss to Portland State, coach Mike Leach tried to make sense of the Cougars’ disappointing performance.
PULLMAN — Perhaps this is rock bottom for Washington State?
After all, when you start your season by losing to an FCS team for the first time since 1978, things look pretty grim. There’s nowhere to go but up, right?
That’s what the Cougars (0-1) want to believe.
Washington State @ Rutgers, 12:30 p.m.
“We haven’t had a practice that was worse than that game,” WSU coach Mike Leach said Saturday. “What we did didn’t really translate to the field. We’ve had good practices and I think they worked really hard.”
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As the Cougars searched for answers to explain the 24-17 debacle against Portland State, Leach offered paralysis by analysis as one possibility.
“I think we just got impatient and tried to make too much happen,” Leach said. “It’s a shame because we’re a lot better team than that. … I think as a group we went out there and tried to dissect it and be perfect, and we just needed to run basic plays — do your job.
“There was a lot of sidebar discussion like ‘I thought this, I thought that.’ Too much individual over-analysis. We’ve just gotta get them to relax and let it happen.”
That over-analysis began with quarterback Luke Falk, but also plagued the rest of the team on offense and defense.
Asked to evaluate Falk’s performance against PSU, Leach said: “I thought he was slow and deliberate and he had to react quicker and see the field better. Too much trying to make the perfect play. That’s the long way of me saying I wish he would have settled down.”
Before he was knocked out of the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter, Falk showed some flashes of brilliance.
He distributed the ball well, connecting with 11 different receivers, and completed 65.9 percent of his passes.
He threw touchdowns to Keith Harrington and Gabe Marks, and he had a third touchdown strike to Gerard Wicks called back on a holding penalty against Robert Lewis.
But the offense also suffered from communication issues.
“We were out there with our hair on fire more than we were executing,” Leach said. “I think Portland State deserves a lot of credit. They hung together and when they faced adversity, they waited it out and worked their way through it. We never did that.
“We have to kind of grow up and have that level of maturity ourselves.”
Cougs to run more?
Leach said this offseason that he’d like to run the ball more, and that’s how the Cougars started off against PSU.
Seven of the 11 plays WSU ran on its opening drive were runs, even though Leach said that was more a result of what the defense gave the Cougars than any true scripting on his part.
Still, WSU stuck with the run for much of the game and finished with a 40-60 run-pass ratio — unusual for the Air Raid offense. For perspective, WSU ran about three pass plays for every run play last season.
As Leach promised, the Cougs used three running backs. Their 30 combined carries for 104 yards is the highest number of carries WSU has had in a game since it rushed 30 times against Eastern Washington in 2012.
“I thought we were going to run a lot because we’ve been working on our run game at practice and we’re getting pretty good at it,” running back Keith Harrington said.