Cougs' mental game will be huge, Leach says

SO MUCH ABOUT winning and losing is about having the right mentality, says Mike Leach. And you also must have the right mentality in coming back to play the week after a loss, as WSU is doing this week in Reno. During his radio show Wednesday evening, Leach was quick to give props to fifth-year senior Connor Halliday for his efforts in that arena.

It should come as no surprise that Halliday received such praise from his head coach. The two work together every day and Leach saw his fifth-year signal caller toss for over 500 yards and five touchdowns in the season opener.

Yet, his words couldn’t have been more clear during the US Bank Cougar Coaches Show, hosted by KXLY’s Bud Nameck, Wednesday evening.

“You know, he’s done a tremendous job,” Leach said of the Spokane native. “He helped spearhead our entire offseason. He’s provided good mentality and has been a great example for our team. Each week he’s elected a team captain by a ridiculous margin.”

AND WHEN IT COMES to being a leader, Halliday has had that covered too, Leach said.

“He’s converted a bunch of our guys, which really helped us have a great camp over there in Lewiston,” Leach said. “He had guys working hard and playing focused. He’s become more focused himself.”

As good as Halliday was against Rutgers, though, expect him to continue growing throughout the season.

“I think he’s going to steadily improve as players around him do,” Leach said. “There’s elements from the game that were a good starting point for us. We just need to continue building from there.”

AS FOR THE LOSS to the Scarlet Knights, some WSU faithful may have worried it would have affected the Cougs’ early on during practice this week. The opposite was true.

“The biggest thing (tone of practice) is that it has to be controlled,” Leach said. “I’ve always believed that the Sunday night practice should be good - win or loss. You should have the discipline to be on the right track, which I thought we were.

“The disciplined response to a game is to be focused on Sunday. Get your work done and definitely make sure you’re on track by Tuesday. I thought we were on track Sunday. We had a lot of young guys play in their first game and they responded well.”

LOOKING AHEAD, with Nevada set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday (ESPN), Leach said there’s one thing in particular the Cougs need to be focused on.

“Our mentality will be huge,” Leach said. “I think it’s gigantic. It’s one of the biggest things that exists. At times, games are literally decided by mentality. People refer to it as momentum, but it’s such a broad term. It’s hard to define.

“Sometimes with mentality, you’ll see a kid can’t play up to his potential and then quickly, they get good. The biggest thing that changes there is the mentality that they have.”

Leach was also complimentary of the Cougar offensive line’s play vs. Rutgers, which featured three new starters.

“I thought they were good,” he said. “We had some new guys out there and once they got settled in about a quarter of the way in, they looked like they were having as much fun as any of our offensive lines have had here.

Riley Sorenson made his first start at center and he hardly had any communication errors. Cole Madison played at right tackle and that’s a tough position. He did good stuff for us. Then I thought Eduardo Middleton played well and he’s a guy who has changed his mentality. The biggest thing for him is that he just decided to be confident. Those were three guys I was impressed with.”

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