Know Your Foe: Washington State

Whether it's a winless record in the Pac-12 or accusations of mental abuse by Head Coach Mike Leach and his staff, these are turbulent times in Pullman. Cougfan.com's Barry Bolton discusses ASU's next opponent and some of the issues that have affected the program in 2012.

The big story in Pullman this week, and perhaps around the Pac-12 as well, are the verbal abuse allegations that Marquess Wilson has claimed against Head Coach Mike Leach. This appears to be a "He Said, She Said" scenario, but with your knowledge of the situation who do you believe more and why?

If anyone has ever checked out YouTube videos of Mike Leach at Texas Tech you know he can cuss like a stevedore. So there is little surprise that he can get after folks with the spoken word.

That is Mike Leach. He's an old-school disciplinarian who says what's on his mind. That's both the beauty and bane of Mike -- he's honest and entertaining, but sometimes it can rub people the wrong way.

In regard to the physical abuse allegation, we have never seen it and we've had people at every official practice since last spring. Also, no other players have suggested any physical abuse. So no, we don't believe the allegation is true.

At the same time, it's important to note that Marquess Wilson is a very nice young man, and our thinking is that he, or whomever assisted him with his press release, got caught up in the emotion of the moment and overstated his actual complaints.

Paul Sorensen wrote a commentary piece for us and no matter which side you come down on, I think it's a good read. You can find it here:

http://washingtonstate.scout.com/2/1239581.html Regardless of the validity of those allegations, Leach has gone on record calling his players "zombies" and berating them in the media. Has the Cougar nation just brushed off those comments or is there some outrage about them?

Some have objected to it, some agree with the tough love approach. It depends on who you talk with. Some people are fine with it and believe it's all part of the transition from an also-ran to a contender. Others find it unprofessional and unnecessary.

With all the negativity around Leach, there must be some positives to talk about. What are some the reasons you feel he has been a good hire for Washington State?

The Cougs were close to winning against Stanford and UCLA and they competed well, at times, against Oregon, all ranked teams from the Pac-12. The wins haven't come because they've been far too inconsistent and the offensive line has had a rough go, a very rough go, of things. The margin for error is very slim this season when it comes to wins. Next season it will be wider, and the season after that wider still, as WSU's recruiting classes under Mike Leach grow up.

Can you talk about the skills of the two quarterbacks, Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, and who do you think is more suited to run the Cougars' offense?

Tuel is more of a tactician, Halliday is more of a gambler. Tuel has better scrambling ability but hasn't used it as much as he has in previous seasons. Neither QB seems to be seeing the field as well as they should but that's also not all their fault. The primary reason neither QB has shined this season is an offensive line that has been unable to provide adequate protection or open enough running lanes. Neither Tuel nor Halliday is blameless, they've made mistakes too, but if WSU's o-line had performed at an average clip, both quarterbacks would have had far more success.

While Leach's offense is known for its passing, is it still a little baffling that the team has 2,916 passing yards to just 580 yards rushing yards (which is really 264 if you count sacks)?

There are two key things to look at there. One is that WSU running backs have not exploded through the hole as they need to, have struggled to create on their own and have had precious few running lanes. The second is the number of carriers by Cougar running backs. WSU has all but abandoned the run at times this season. Consider that against Utah, Cougar running backs carried the ball five times. Five. Against Stanford the week before, Cougar running backs carried the ball six times. That's 11 carries by running backs over two games. Contrast that number of carries with any two games from Arizona State's backs. With Teondray Caldwell returning this past week from injury, WSU ran more against UCLA and they may try to incorporate that this week. But WSU's is a passing offense and a portion of their "runs" will also always be screen passes.

As potent as the passing game has been did it suffer the expected major blow once Wilson left the team? Which wide receiver can try and pick up the slack?

Wilson was the team's leading receiver but his drops precluded him having a great season at the point he left and he was also demoted from his starting job a few weeks prior. Against UCLA and without Wilson, Washington State threw for 457 passing yards, with two wide receivers going over 100 yards. There are a number of wide receivers who could have big games against ASU if the o-line gives the QB time, including Dominique Williams, Bobby Ratliff, Brett Bartolone and Gabe Marks. Williams is arguably most similar to Wilson in terms of style of play.

Who are some the standouts on defense and has that group in your opinion underperformed?

They have underperformed at times, exceeded expectations other times. All in all, the defense has performed better than most everyone expected at the start of the season, though they still aren't where they want or need to be. There are stretches where WSU will play solid defense, and there are others where they give up field-long drives. NT Ioane Gauta, BUCK Travis Long, MIK Darryl Monroe and OLB Cyrus Coen have probably played the most consistently. S Deone Bucannon has also emerged at times. Both Xavier Cooper and Destiny Vaeao are freshmen d-linemen who are beginning to emerge in the Cougs' 3-4. Against UCLA last week, WSU held the Bruins to 334 total yards on offense with 16 of UCLA's points coming off special teams blunders.

It seems that Washington State's 2013 recruiting class could be one of the better ones in recent years. Do you agree and what has the new staff done in this aspect to turn this around?

Mike Leach is a proven, winning coach with 10 bowl games in 10 years at Texas Tech – prospects have responded to that. The class is shaping up nicely but you always have to get them in and see what they can do on the WSU practice field before you can make confident predictions. But is Mike Leach getting the guys, and types of guys, he wants in the 2013 class? Yes, without a doubt.

It was widely known that Leach had a big rebuilding project in Pullman. Yet, is there deep disappointment that the team hasn't been able to notch a Pac-12 victory yet?

Of course.

What does Washington State need to do to come away with a victory on Saturday?

Play more consistently across the board, have at least a credible job turned in on the offensive line and not allow ASU to get on a scoring roll without an answer. WSU needs to put a more complete game together, something they really haven't done this season.


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