Leach: Some Cougs have 'empty-corpse quality'

THE BIGGEST TALKING POINT for Washington State coach Mike Leach recently has been his team's lack of leadership. Leach continued to discuss those issues and the Cougars' quarterback and offensive line situations during his Monday afternoon teleconference. WSU hosts California at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (TV: Pac-12 Networks).

Leach often has talked about how youthful WSU (2-4 overall, 0-3 conference) is this season. He said some of that relates to the lack of effort he has seen from seniors.

"Some honestly have an empty-corpse quality," Leach said. "That's not pleasant to say."

He said that has been a more significant issue on the offensive side of the ball. The Cougars rank 96th among 120 Football Subdivision teams in total offense at 353.3 yards per game. During Saturday's 19-7 loss at Oregon State, WSU produced just 227 yards of total offense.

"The Oregon State game was a disaster on offense," Leach said. "We need focused people."

The unit youthfulness — freshmen Brett Bartolone (receiver), Teondray Caldwell (running back) and Gunnar Eklund (left tackle) all started — did not help, but Leach said the problems extend beyond that.

"We're more concerned with relationships and people being happy than performance," he said. "If it's not easy, we want to flinch and flounder. If you don't embrace adversity, you're never going to improve."

Perhaps the most problematic area has been the offensive line. The Cougars allow an average of 3 1/2 sacks per game, which ranks 113th among FBS programs. With the exception of junior left guard John Fullington, who is starting for a third consecutive year, no one has much experience at the line. And with the possible exception of senior Wade Jacobson, Leach said the unit's lack of depth limits how much shuffling he can do with the starting lineup. He said there are only seven linemen ready to play.

"Collectively, I think we're better than we give each other credit for," he said. "We're just not cohesive."

The result has been constant pressure applied on quarterbacks Connor Halliday and Jeff Tuel. As previously reported by CF.C, Halliday will start Saturday. He completed just 9 of 20 passes for 81 yards and was intercepted three times against the Beavers.

"We're at a point in the season where we have to invest one guy in the reps," said Leach, adding that Halliday had performed better than Tuel before OSU.

Tuel, who completed 11 of 17 passes for 126 yards and an interception against the Beavers, has handled the situation well, Leach said.

"He's one of the best team guys I've been around," he said. "If he's our quarterback, I'm comfortable."

THE SITUATION ON defense is different. The Cougars' early season woes on that side of the ball have left them ranked 100th among FBS schools in total defense — they allow an average of 455 yards per game — but they limited OSU to 370. After having a nonexistent pass rush in recent years, WSU's 3.17 per game ranks 13th nationally.

"I think they've got better and better," Leach said. "We're starting to get some leadership there."

He said that comes from senior BUCK linebacker Travis Long, junior nose tackle Ioane Gauta and linebacker Justin Sagote.

"Gauta has been a captain on every team he's been on," Leach said. "We've been lucky with those two junior-college guys."

Overall, Leach said he has had to be patient. That does not mean he is satisfied as the season has reached its midpoint, though.

"Just a lot of missed opportunities," he said. "If we were a more mature, mentally tough team, we could've capitalized on that."

  • Senior Gino Simone, who had 83 yards on three receptions against the Beavers, has emerged as a starting inside receiver recently. He also was voted as a team captain this week.

    "He's kept plugging away," Leach said. "I just think he mentally, physically and emotionally connected."

    Simone was "so wound up he couldn't function" earlier in the season, Leach said.

  • In order, Leach said priorities for the recruiting class that will sign in February are offensive linemen, defensive backs, defensive linemen and wide receivers.

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