The Cougs may be mathematically ineligible for the 2016 Rose Bowl but that didn’t dampen McGuire’s enthusiasm Monday in Spokane following the whirlwind victory over then-No. 18 UCLA and Wazzu’s debut in the polls (No. 23 in AP; No. 24 in Coaches).
“That was a great experience down there at the Rose Bowl,” he said. “We can’t wait to go back and do it all over again in January!”
(And in other good news for McGuire, WSU added a three-star offensive lineman who verbally committed to play for Washington State – specifically for McGuire, who handled the recruiting duties. See related story below).
McGuire’s message to his o-linemen is simple: On the field and off, if you keep doing the things in life you can control, to the best of your abilities, good things follow. His visual aids backed up his premise and had Spokane Cougs in attendance memserized.
McGuire showed Kirkland Parker -- getting more and more playing time of late plus his first WSU start Saturday at UCLA -- setting a textbook edge on a UCLA sweep. (Parker is listed by WSU as a cornerback but he started at nickel on Saturday).
On the play, Parker fought through a pair of blocks by pulling offensive lineman and made a tackle for loss.
He also showed a pair of plays by safety Shalom Luani flying into the UCLA backfield to tackle running backs for loss.
And there was 6-foot-3, 307-pound defensive lineman Robert Barber reading a UCLA screen pass and running down the ballcarrier.
“You are seeing this more and more from us,” McGuire said. “You’re seeing guys running to the football.”
Individually, each highlight play was highly praiseworthy. Strung together, it showed a pattern that’s engrained itself in the Cougar defensive unit.
That pattern becomes clearer as Cougar players make the extra effort and chasing down the ballcarrier, making the tackle on what could have been a big first down.
And when cornerback Charleston White reads a bubble screen and jams the play up behind the line of scrimmage long enough for his teammates to storm in and make the tackle, it shows something else.
White doesn’t make the tackle, but he definitely makes the play.
“The difference this year is that the guys have bought into the points of emphasis that their coaches keep repeating over and over,” McGuire said. “The first thing we stress is stripping the football. Anytime you see a player fighting for extra yards you’re going to see out guys going in and trying to strip the football, and it’s playing out in games.
“The first things our guys see when they come out to practice is a football on a stick, and they drill everyday trying to strip it. We’ve had to fix (the stick) a couple times this season because the players have gone after it so hard they’ve broken it.”
The second thing, McGuire said, is making that extra effort to rally to the football.
McGuire also talked specifically about changes the Cougars made along the offensive line at halftime.
“We did not play well,” the coach said of his unit. “We gave up some sacks and their (UCLA’s) outside pass rushers were giving us fits. They weren’t all that big, but they were really fast.”
As CougFan readers know senior left tackle Joe Dahl missed his second straight game and so Gunnar Eklund and Eduardo Middleton started out of their normal starting positions with Jacob Seydel inserted at right guard. It worked against ASU, but the first half against UCLA was a completely different story.
"We decided that we needed to move Gunnar and Eduardo back to their normal positions and we put (second-year) freshman Andre Dillard in at left tackle," said McGuire.
WSU allowed five sacks in the first half, but only one more after Dillard came in. But as good a job as Dillard did in his debut, McGuire says there's work to do.
“Andre graded out okay, in the low 70s,” McGuire said. “He had some mistakes and he drew a procedure penalty. He had some plays where he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do -- but athletically he did just fine. He’s easily our most athletic lineman. He’s a little small right now – maybe 270 pounds. We’ve got him on a weight program. He’ll be at least 280 next year and by the time he’s a senior he’ll easily be a 300-pound guy.”
CouGreat quarterback Jason Gesser asked McGuire for his favorite Mike Leach quote. McGuire has coached under Leach at both Washington State and Texas Tech, and played under him with the Red Raiders,
“Probably something I can’t repeat in this room,” McGuire quipped. “But one of the things he’s always preached has stuck with me. He’s always telling us to concentrate on what you can control.”
McGuire said he was playing at Texas Tech when 9/11 happened.
“We were all geared up and ready to play a game that week and, of course, all those games were cancelled,” he said. “Coach Leach kept talking to us about worrying about the things we can control and letting the rest of it go. Stay focused on those things happening around you that you can control.”
In that respect, McGuire said Colorado is a team that the Cougars cannot take lightly.
“They’re trying to build a program down there, just like we are,” he said. “They’ve just barely lost to all the teams we’ve just barely beaten.
"They’re going to be tough.”