Daily EvergreenThe Washington State Cougars are hoping what happened in Vegas last weekend doesn’t stay in Vegas as they return to Pullman to open up Pac-12 Conference play against Colorado University at 1 p.m. Saturday at Martin Stadium.
“It’s really exciting for all our goals that we’ve set,” quarterback Connor Halliday said Monday. “Conference play is a big deal. We need to win conference games. We need to be better in the Pac-12 than we have been and I think this week hopefully we can get off to a good start at that.”
Saturday will also be the Cougars homecoming game, as they look for their first three-game winning streak since 2006.
Their opponent, the winless Colorado Buffaloes, are coming off a dismal 14-69 loss to Fresno State last week, a game in which their defense gave up 665 total yards.
Although CU is last in the conference in total defense, scoring defense and total offense, the Cougars refuse to look past their opponent.
“I think we will go into this game just like we do every other one,” Halliday said. “Like what Coach Leach says, respect all, fear none. That’s kind of our motto this year so if you go into any game thinking you are going to blow someone out you are going to come out flat.”
Head Coach Mike Leach is not writing Colorado off, either, and has liked what he has seen so far from the young Buffaloes on film.
“They definitely have some resources,” Leach said Monday. “I do think they are going to emerge and explode at some point because they are very talented.”
Once again the Cougar faithful will have to wait until game-time to figure out who will be under center for WSU Saturday as Leach refuses to tip his hand on who will be starting at quarterback.
“Why do people watch games, cause the suspense. Because they want to know what’s going to happen,” Leach said. “And I’m not a guy that tells people the ending to a movie if they haven’t seen it and I’m certainly not going to share that with you. So, you know if you want to know how it turns out, you’re going to have to come see the movie.”
Halliday filled the position well last Friday throwing for 378 yards and four touchdowns while filling in for injured starter Jeff Tuel. It is not known whether or not Tuel has recovered from the knee injury he sustained two weeks ago against Eastern Washington, but Leach has had his fun with media questions about the senior’s status.
“He’s ridiculously healthy,” Leach said Monday. “He’s one of those guys that Tony the Tiger would be proud of to be in a commercial and have him eat cereal.”
Regardless of who the starter is come Saturday, the theme of the week for the Cougars has been maintaining consistency on both sides of the ball.
Though the Cougars offense looked more like the explosive unit that fans were expecting to see this season, Leach is focused on improving the ability to possess the ball and control the game.
“One of the things that I’ve been involved with in the past that I probably take as much pride in as anything is leading the nation in first downs,” Leach said. “Well, right now we aren’t doing that. You want to control something offensively, lead in first downs. We don’t have that consistency right now.”
One component that helped the Cougars offense get going last Friday was the solid play of the offense line, which has steadily improved with every game this season.
“The offensive line had a heck of a game,” Halliday said. “I had a lot of time back there.”
Center Elliot Bosch, however, is not ready to settle for mediocrity, and still sees room for improvement.
“We are improving each week and I think the biggest thing is we got to keep practicing and putting together practices,” Bosch said. “We haven’t played as an offensive line as a complete group. We’ve had some guys play well. We need to have everybody play well and good things will happen.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Leach has been relatively pleased with the play of his young defense this season.
The linebacker core has played particularly well. Senior Travis led the Pac-12 in sacks with four, while the defense already has eight sacks after achieving 17 all of last season.
However, a growing concern for Leach and his coaching staff is the overall poor play of the secondary that is ranked No. 117 in the nation in pass defense.
“I think sometimes those secondary kids, if they believed they were half as good as they are they’d be really good,” Leach said. “I think you got to understand that occasionally you’re going to get beat. But to sort of have the presence, the arrogance, the charisma to say, ‘Hey I’m the guy to go in there and fix it. I got beat the last play, but I’m the guy that should be out there to whip him this play.’”
Those who cannot make it to Martin Stadium on Saturday can watch the game live on FX or tune in to 710 AM or 104.3 FM on the radio.