Leach's practice week tweaks

PULLMAN – Mike Leach says if the Cougars’ performance against Portland State on Saturday looks anything like the last few days of practice, WSU should wind up in great shape in the home opener on Saturday. Leach spoke at length during his weekly radio show Thursday evening on what it'll take, plus some adjustments he’s made this week headed into the Cougs’ first game in new-look Martin Stadium.

“I’d like to see this game look like Wednesday’s practice,” Mike Leach told KXLY’s Derek Deis during the US Bank Cougar Coaches Show on Thursday.

“Those are the ones we had the pads on so if we can go out there for a whole game and it looks like a Tuesday/Wednesday practice – the ones we’ve had up to this point – then we’ll have a heck of a game,” he added.

Leach cited a relatively simple formula for avoiding a third-straight loss to start the season: “First you practice well, then you lift and run well and then you play well.”

The first step in the process appears to be complete as Leach expressed his pleasure with the growth and improvement of nearly every position group in practice, singling out the play of offensive linemen Cole Madison, Eduardo Middleton and Riley Sorenson for the second straight week. But because the results of those strong practices have yet to show in games, the coaching staff has tweaked the practice regimen to mimic more of a game atmosphere.

Of those changes is making sure no one stands behind the huddle.

“A lot of times you’ve got Santa’s little helpers back there behind the huddle with feedback and all of that, while there’s more of a sense of isolation in a game,” Leach said.

The other adjustment, Leach said, includes the coaches making sure the players block out the distractions of a game atmosphere such as the score or the down and distance, something they easily do in practice because of the absence of a scoreboard.

Rather than worry about their 28-point lead or 14-point deficit, he want his guys honed in on the next play in games the same way they are in practice.

“We need to make sure – especially with a younger group – that we don’t allow their minds to get clouded with other stuff going on,” Leach said. “If we can do it in practice we can do it in games.”

Discussing the 24-13 loss to Nevada, Leach dismissed the notion that the Wolf Pack defense did anything special to stall his Cougar offense which managed only one touchdown all game despite multiple trips into opposing territory.

Leach said the damage was mostly self-inflicted with a mixture of penalties and poor red zone execution and a tendency to “tighten up” as the team moved closer to goal line.

“When we get down there we just need to make basic plays,” Leach said. “And we were behind the sticks the whole night and a lot of that was our own fault.”

The Cougar D, said Leach “played a really good first quarter and a short portion of the second quarter, then I thought we went conservative the second half, which I thought was a mistake” adding he saw the Cougs on both sides of the ball playing not to lose.

Looking forward to the Portland State (1-1) game on Saturday (5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks) Leach was asked about the dual-quarterback system the Vikings run with Paris Penn and Kieran McDonagh who combined for 321 yards of total offense and five touchdowns both passing and rushing in a 45-38 win over Western Oregon last week.

Leach said the two QB’s each present their challenges, McDonagh typically through the air and Penn on the ground. PSU led Oregon State 14-13 at the half before falling 29-14 in both teams’ season opener.

“They’re a good scrappy team, they gave Oregon State all they wanted,” Leach said. “This time of the season where everyone is healthy and the first level guys on those I-AA teams are comparable then it’s after you get to the second level guys you have a drop-off. They’re always challenging this time of year and that’s why they have been historically.”

Fresh off of a session of Thursday Night Football, Leach answered a fan question about the standout play of recently-added Coug receiver Barry Ware.

“We hadn’t seen much of him because he just got here three days but we had him in Thursday Night Football where we scrimmage the young guys and he caught a deep ball – and we forced the ball to him, I just wanted to see what he could do, told him just run deep then I told the quarterback to throw it to him no matter what and of course Barry Ware snatches the thing and keeps running,” Leach said. “I did a similar deal on the touchdown that he caught later on in the scrimmage.”

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