WSU NOTEBOOK: Will it be Tuel or Halliday?

LAS VEGAS – Mike Leach is an accomplished football coach, but his greatest skill might be his ability to answer a question at length without providing an answer. Alas, it is the reporter's solemn duty to ask questions. So, Mike, who's it going to be at quarterback next week – Jeff Tuel or Connor Halliday?

"Why do people watch games? Because of suspense, because they want to know what's going to happen," Leach said after Halliday's sparkling performance Friday night in relief of the injured Tuel in a 35-27 win over UNLV.

"I'm not a guy who tells people the end of a movie if they haven't seen it, so I'm not going to share it (the quarterback decision) with you. If you want to see how it turns out, you've got to come see the movie."

The Cougars' next "movie" will be their Pacific-12 Conference opener next Saturday against Colorado (0-2). Barely 4,000 tickets are left for the homecoming game, so the Cougars might sell out a second straight home game for the first time since selling out their final three home games in 2006.

WITH LIMITED TO LIGHT work in pregame warm-ups, Halliday delivered a (mostly) stellar performance on a hot night in the desert in just his second college start.

The redshirt sophomore from Spokane's Ferris High completed 26 of 45 passes for 378 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. In the first 25 minutes alone, he completed three passes of 47 or more yards, and he may have lost a 75-yard TD pass when Marquess Wilson dropped a perfectly thrown ball after getting behind the defense at midfield late in the first quarter.

"He was amazing back there," Wilson said. "Who wouldn't like a quarterback that's launching the ball?"

"For a guy who hadn't played (much) football for a long time, I thought he played good," Leach said.

"He was great … he was throwing the ball all over the field," wide receiver Gabe Marks said.

Halliday said he "made a decent case" for remaining the starter, even if Tuel's apparent knee injury is quick to heal.

"Leach puts a lot on the quarterback's shoulders to call your own play at the line of scrimmage," Halliday said. "I think I got settled in well in the game and made some great decisions for the rest of the game after I made that first pick."

Halliday was referring to the interception that ended WSU's opening drive after the Rebels tied a world record by getting flagged for 15-yard penalties on the first three plays from scrimmage.

THE COUGARS CONTINUE to deal with their own problems with penalties. Already one of the most penalized teams in the country, WSU set season highs with 12 penalties for 128 yards. Seven of the flags were thrown in the fourth quarter.

"We need to be tougher in the fourth quarter. It's as simple as that," Leach said. "We played hard and did some good things, and then our technique breaks down. We need to stop entertaining fatigue. I think we tell ourselves that we are fatigued long before we are actually fatigued.

"Part of being fatigued is a decision. And everybody goes out there and everybody's tired. Big deal. Like the guys on the other side aren't tired."

FATIGUE ALSO MAY be figuring in WSU's inability to put away opponents the past two games.

"We need to get better on third down, both sides of the ball," Leach said. "One of the biggest things is that we need to rise together. One side gets them against the ropes, the other side needs to respond. We need to be a little better when the meat's on the table."

LEACH WAS DELIGHTED with the enthusiasm and energy in the stands at WSU's home opener last week, and he was similarly impressed when Cougars fans pretty much matched UNLV fans in numbers in Friday's crowd of 17,015.

"Washington State sold (more than) 5,000 tickets this game, and they're incredibly supportive," Leach said. "I can't say enough about that."

The Cougars are down to the last 3,000 or so tickets for the Nov. 23 Apple Cup with Washington in Pullman. Approximately 52,000 tickets have been sold for the "annual Seattle home game" Sept. 29 with fourth-ranked Oregon. CenturyLink Field seats 67,000, and the Cougars hope to have a sellout.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Tyree Toomer, who lost his starting job at free safety to true freshman Taylor Taliulu, made his first start of the season and recorded his first college interception. Taliulu saw little action, but Leach said, "He's going to be a great player." Casey Locker started at strong safety for Deone Bucannon, who was suspended for the first half by the Pacific-12 Conference for a late, high hit last week against Eastern Washington receiver Greg Herd.

  • Starting offensive lineman Dan Spitz did not make the trip due to "personal issues," Leach said. Earlier in the week, the Cougars said Spitz missed practices due to class conflicts.

  • Redshirt freshman Gunnar Eklund made his first start. He played left tackle, with John Fullington moving to left guard.

  • BUCK linebacker Travis Long tied his career highs of nine tackles and two quarterback sacks for the second time in three games. The senior was active all game with NFL scouts on hand.

  • Wilson, a junior, broke Mike Levenseller's school record of 11 100-yard receiving games. With five catches for 110 yards, Wilson boosted his career average to 17.7 yards per catch. That pushed him past Georgia senior Tavarres King (17.3) into the national lead among Football Bowl Subdivision players.

  • Halliday has thrown 13 touchdown passes in his first six college games. Former WSU and NFL star Drew Bledsoe threw nine TD passes in his first six games.

  • If the Cougars beat Colorado, they'll have their first three-game winning streak since 2006.

  • WSU has Saturday off, returning to the practice field Sunday evening.

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