Bassett-hound faces draw Leach ire

THIS IS GOING to take time. That much is apparent after Washington State struggled to gain any consistency on offense and had no answer for Brigham Young's first-half hurry-up scheme during Thursday's 30-6 loss to open coach Mike Leach's era in Provo, Utah.

It did not always look bleak for the crimson-and-gray Cougars. After WSU stopped BYU on third down, quarterback Jeff Tuel used 13 plays to guide his team down to the opponent's 23-yard line. But it all fell apart on the following play when Tuel, who had room to scramble, instead was intercepted on a pass into tight coverage.

That was the turning point.

"We've got to be a mentally tough team," Leach said during a postgame radio interview. "When something bad happens, we can't have all of these Bassett hound looking faces on the sideline."

From that point, the defense looked about as overmatched as many analysts expected before the season. It did not matter whether quarterback Riley Nelson was dropping back or handing off to 6-foot-1 Michael Alisa, who had 54 yards on 13 carries. WSU had no solution.

BYU (1-0) used consecutive 10-play drives to take a 14-0 early in the second quarter. Nelson, who passed for 25 of 36 passes for 285 yards, found Skyler Ridley for a 10-yard touchdown. Freshman Taysom Hill then replaced Nelson on the final play of the third drive and scrambled before hitting Kaneakua Friel for an 18-yard touchdown.

"We just need to play fast," WSU safety Deone Bucannon said. "We need to give our offense as many chances as possible to exploit what we have.

But none of that was unexpected. Most expected WSU would need an output reminiscent of the famed RPM offense to compete with BYU. Instead, the Air Raid produced as many three-and-outs (two) as scoring drives during the first half. Those came from kicker Andrew Furney, who connected on 47- and 41-yard field goals.

Between then, BYU added 10 more points on a 28-yard field goal by Riley Stephenson and a 25-yard touchdown pass from Nelson to Friel. BYU led 24-6 at halftime.

The performance led Leach to derisively declare Tuel's performance as "average" during a halftime interview on ESPN.

"We're just trying to make too much happen," he said. "We've got to relax."

ESPN color commentator Matt Millen, a longtime NFL player and former Detroit Lions general manager, thought that assessment was generous during the second half.

"He's had time," Millen said of Tuel. "He hasn't been able to locate his receivers."

That was accurate -- for the most part. Tuel twice had enough time during each half to find standout junior Marquess Wilson for big gains, including a spectacular grab with one foot in the back of the end zone near the end of the first half. But both were negated by holding penalties on John Fullington.

Tuel, who completed 30 of 45 passes for 229 yards, did not help himself, either. After finding Wilson for a 16-yard completion on The Opening drive of the second half, he was intercepted by Jordan Johnson on the ensuing play. Stephenson later converted a 21-yard field goal and then connected from 31 yards out on the following drive to give BYU a 30-6 lead entering the fourth quarter.

DESPITE THE STRUGGLES, it still is far too early to reach any many conclusions at this point, though. While a dramatic immediate turnaround under Leach similar to the six-game improvement the Cougars experienced from 2000 to '01 is unrealistic, hopes for modest improvement this year are not. WSU should be heavily favored the next two weeks when it hosts Eastern Washington and plays at UNLV, a team the Cougars defeated 59-7 last year, the following week.

As long as WSU wins those games and are competitive in Pac-12 play, there still could be an opportunity to reach a bowl for the first time since 2003.

The Cougars also will not face too many defenses as quick and physical as BYU again this season. As much as WSU struggled to move the ball, BYU made it difficult to make any big plays when it quickly converged on receivers and routinely featured tight coverage downfield. BYU allowed just 313 yards of total offense per game, which ranked 13th among Football Bowl Subdivision teams last year. No team in the Pac-12 allowed fewer yards per game.

It was a modest benchmark that not even WSU could meet, though. The Cougars finished with 224 yards, including minus-5 rushing yards.

With the defense likely requiring an infusion of talent through recruiting to become one of the Pac-12, there is enough talent on the offensive side to win some high scoring games. But with conference play beginning in about three weeks, the Cougars won't have much time to improve significantly.

From Leach's perspective, that might be more important from a psychological than talent standpoint.

"As coaches we've got to have the ability to settle them down," he said. "We were frantic and then overly conscious to not have something bad happen. We've got to have some continuity."

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME: Tuel's interception on the opening drive changed the game's momentum.

CATCH OF THE GAME: Wilson beat out multiple defenders and kept one foot down in the back corner of the end zone. Unfortunately, the touchdown was negated by a holding penalty.

STAT OF THE GAME: WSU was outgained 426 to 224.

MISLEADING STAT OF THE GAME: BYU only had six more first downs than WSU. It was not that close as the crimson-and-gray Cougars benefited from multiple personal-foul penalties against BYU.

LEADING TACKLERS: Safety Deone Bucannon had 12 tackles, while linebackers Jared Byers and Travis Long and true freshman safety Taylor Taliulu each added nine stops.

NEXT GAME: The Cougars host Eastern Washington at noon Sept. 8.


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