Quotes and notes from Cougar locker room

SEATTLE – Everyone seems to agree that the Washington State Cougars have worked exceptionally hard to develop their bodies. In the wake of Thursday night's bitter loss to Rutgers, however, the players say they still must develop their minds.

“I don’t think all 11 guys truly believed they were going to win that game,” senior quarterback Connor Halliday said after the Cougars blew three second-half leads in the 41-38 loss.

“We have all the talent to do it (win),” offensive tackle Cole Madison said. “I just don’t think people personally believe in themselves.”

WSU coach Mike Leach has questioned the mental toughness of some Cougars in the past, and he did so again Thursday.

“For too long around this university, expectations and performance and all that has been too low,” Leach said.

It’s up to players and coaches to change that, Leach said.

“It’s not going to get changed from the outside,” he said. “Everybody’s going to get 20 pats on their back before they get back to their house.

“We’ve got to change that. We’ve got to expect more out of ourselves, and we’ve got to get more out of ourselves, starting with the coaches.”

Halliday added, “We work our butts off in the offseason and during practice. I guarantee we practice harder than any team in the country with what Leach puts us through.

“Then we think because we do that, we deserve to win games. I mean, it’s all well and good that you work hard. When it’s winning time, you’ve got to go out there and put a drive together.”

Washington State was favored by 7 1/2 points. Rutgers finished a distant last in the East Division in a Big Ten Conference media poll.

“I think we squandered the first third of the first half getting warmed up on offense,” Leach said. “I don’t think we ever re-established the line of scrimmage on defense, and we were sloppy as we could be on the special teams.”

A midfield fumble by punt returner River Cracraft set up Paul James’ winning touchdown run with 3 minutes, 24 seconds left in the game. James ran the ball 29 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns.

WSU defensive end-tackle Xavier Cooper praised James and Rutgers’ offensive line, but noted, “Tackling killed us. We’ve got to be better tacklers.”

HALLIDAY WAS OFTEN SENSATIONAL, passing for 532 yards and five touchdowns. The Cougars failed to cross midfield on their final drive, however, turning the ball over on downs in the final minute.

“Coach Leach and all our coaches talk about building a legacy,” Halliday said. “Well, legacies are made on a drive like that.”

If, that is, such a drive is successful.

“We floundered,” the straight-shooting quarterback said.

“It didn’t feel like we were all there (on the final drive),” said wide receiver Vince Mayle, who posted career highs of 12 catches and 124 yards and caught his eighth career TD pass.

Blowing the late lead reminded some of WSU’s collapse at the end of the New Mexico Bowl last year.

“Nah, it was nothing like New Mexico,” Halliday said. “New Mexico was a debacle. I don’t think this was a debacle.”

The 532 passing yards ranks second in WSU history to the 557 Halliday racked up in a loss at second-ranked Oregon last year. The five touchdown passes is one off the school record Jason Gesser set in 2000, and which Halliday tied at the New Mexico Bowl.

Despite a slow start, Halliday completed 40 of 56 passes. His lone interception came on the opening drive of the game. Halliday passed Ryan Leaf and Jack Thompson to move into third in WSU history with 7,963 career passing yards. He’s also third in career touchdown passes (63) after passing Leaf.

If not for dropped passes (two in the end zone), Halliday would have torched his school record for passing yards in a game. That’s also the Pac-12 Conference record.

“We played great offensively,” Halliday said. “I mean, I threw for 532 yards and five touchdowns. What more do you want?”

The obvious answer, WSU fans respond, is a victory.

“We didn’t get it done as an offense (on the final drive),” Halliday said. “It’s our job to go down and score.

“We didn’t do that. That’s a failure.”

SENIOR SAM LINEBACKER Mitchell Peterson, who was not listed on the two-deep depth chart released by the Cougars, made his first college start and racked up 16 tackles -- 13 more than his previous career total. Cyrus Coen was listed as the starter on the depth chart but did not play. As usual, no explanation was given.

NOTABLE:

  • Senior cornerback Tracy Clark made his first start for WSU and was burned for two touchdowns, including a 78-yard bomb on the first play from scrimmage.

  • WSU junior Teondray Caldwell, a running back until two weeks ago, started at strong safety and made four tackles.

  • Second-year freshman Jamal Morrow became the first freshman running back to start at WSU since Rickey Galvin in 2011. He rushed six times for a net of 17 yards.

  • True freshman receiver Calvin Green was one of seven WSU wideouts who caught passes. He had two for six yards.

  • Second-year freshman linebacker Peyton Pelluer saw his first collegiate action Thursday and wore No. 47 -- the same number his father Scott Pelluer wore when he played for the Cougs. Peyton's grandfather and great-grandfather also played for WSU.

  • Freshman Jordan Dascalo got the nod over junior Wes Concepcion as the Cougars’ punter. He punted twice, the first covering 28 yards and the second 53. He was one of 15 Cougars making their collegiate debuts.

  • Gabe Marks, last year’s leading receiver for the Cougars, apparently did not make the trip. He may redshirt -- again, for reasons the Cougars won’t disclose.

  • The crowd of 30,927 was the smallest of the 12 Seattle “home” games WSU has played since 2002. No more Seattle games are planned.

  • Leach is 0-3 in season openers at WSU.

  • Bob Robertson, 85, embarked on his 48th season as a Cougars broadcaster. He is believed to be the longest-tenured radio broadcaster with one college football team.


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