Cougs: 'Improving' and other words like that

PULLMAN — The name of the Cougars’ game is still improvement. Indeed, some form of that word was used 15 times in the press conference on Monday, and the phrase “getting better” was used about the same amount, if not more. Mike Leach said the Cougars will improve quickly because of their youth and that every week in the schedule is a step, despite the disappointment of losing 38-31 to Oregon.

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“We’ve got a very young group and I thought a lot of them played beyond their age a little bit, which was pleasing to see,” Leach said. “I think we’ve got to build on that, keep getting better, and get them to do it longer and more often, and make that consistent, make it a habit.”

Leach said that the Cougs played a complete game on offense and defense against Oregon, but he thought they could have done better in the special teams department. In that regard, Leach said the game against Portland State was more complete.

The players and Leach talked once again about focusing internally on what they need to do to win, and not allowing distractions from the outside to dictate how they play.

“I would like to think we ignored the hype,” Leach said about the Oregon game. “This business that there’s different speeds for different levels of hype is crazy. If we’re doing that, we’re a team that hasn’t made a lot of progress, and that we don’t have very good focus. We need to play at top ability every time we go out there, regardless of the opponent, and focus on ourselves and our own efforts.”

Despite sitting at 1-3, the Cougars aren’t concerned about that either.

“Right now, we’re not worried about our record because if you start thinking about records and stuff like that, then you’re not worried about the game you’re playing,” offensive lineman Gunnar Eklund said. “Right now, we’re just worried about Utah, and we’re going to be 1-0 this week. That’s our goal, and if you take each week like that, who knows what can happen.”

One thing the Cougars are more focused on than the scoreboard is the "Rise-Up Board" on their sideline, which linebacker Mitchell Peterson mentioned as a good indicator of how the team is clicking on the field. The team earns a point for each good play they make, and a point is subtracted for poor plays. The idea behind the running tally is that a high score on the rise-up board will translate into wins on the field.

Peterson could not remember, though, if the rise-up board showed the highest score of the season against Oregon.

“The reality is that a loss is a loss, no matter who it’s against,” wide receiver River Cracraft said. “If we’re going to try to beat teams in the Pac-12, we’re going to have to play better than we did against Oregon.”

With the exception of Nevada, the Cougars have scored more than 30 points in the other three games it has played this season. However, the knockout punch has eluded the Cougs in three of four games. Players said on Monday that those singular plays are the ones they need to make to get over the hump.

“We’ve left opportunities out there. There’s been chances where we could put a mark on it and demoralize the team, and just put them down, but we’ve kind of let up in certain situations,” Peterson said. “It’s all about just making our corrections and playing our game.”

Even though the offensive line gave Connor Halliday plenty of time to scan the field and find open receivers, especially Cracraft who finished with 107 receiving yards and a touchdown, Eklund said there was still room to, as you may have guessed, improve.

“We want to be better than that game. That’s one thing we are stressing right now,” Eklund said. “If each player was one play better against Oregon, we would have beat Oregon. We would beat any team in the country that we play if we played one play better.”

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