PULLMAN – The Washington State Cougars have yet to click consistently on offense, and it would appear they might play their final non-conference game Friday at UNLV without starting quarterback Jeff Tuel.
Tuel, injured in Saturday’s win over Eastern Washington, watched Monday’s practice wearing a brace on his right knee. He seemed to walk with ease, but did not use his right leg at least part of the time when riding a stationary bike.
Connor Halliday ran the No. 1 offense. The redshirt sophomore from Spokane completed five of 11 passes for 76 yards and an interception – plus a 42-yard touchdown pass that was called back on a penalty – after Tuel was injured on the first play of the fourth quarter.
As a general policy, WSU coaches and players do not comment on injuries. Coach Mike Leach said a player who does not practice all week could play Friday “if we decide to.”
Quarterbacks were not made available to the media Monday, which is typically the only day Leach permits any player interviews except immediately after games. On Saturday, Tuel expressed “a tremendous amount” of confidence in Halliday.
“The kid can be as good as he wants to be,” Tuel said.
In his only college start, Halliday passed for 289 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions despite suffering a lacerated liver in the second quarter of loss last November to Utah. A week earlier, he was national quarterback of the week after passing for 494 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Arizona State.
The game at UNLV will be nationally televised (6 p.m., ESPN), but how many people will be watching?
According to CBSSports.com, which ranks all 124 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, WSU is No. 86 and UNLV is No. 121. The Cougars (1-1) are favored by 11 points against UNLV (0-2), a team coming off a 17-14 loss to Northern Arizona.
Northern Arizona, a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) team like Eastern Washington, lost the week before to Arizona State, 63-6. The 2011 Cougars, playing without the injured Tuel, beat UNLV in Pullman, 59-7.
WSU and UNLV rank among the worst teams in a number of statistics.
Granted, two games isn’t much to go on. Still, Cougars fans are all too familiar with per-game rankings such as 117th in rushing (51.5 yards), 110th in passing yards allowed (341.1), 92nd in total yards allowed (447.5) and 92nd in sacks allowed (3.0).
The Cougars also rank low in total offense (111th, 289.5 yards), scoring (104th, 15.0), penalties (92nd, 8.0) and turnover margin (88th, minus-2).
On a positive note, the Cougars – horrible on special teams a year ago – rank 10th in kickoff coverage (14.7 yards), 20th in punt returns (16.2), 43rd in kickoff returns (22.6) and 44th in punt return coverage (5.3).
Leach surprised players by cancelling Sunday night’s practice. However, the coach did follow through on his threat to make WSU’s mistake-prone offensive linemen go through a nightmarish workout that day.
“Literally the worst thing I’ve ever done,” guard Jake Rodgers tweeted.
“We did some maneuvers in the sand (pit) to develop focus,” Leach said dryly.
Shuffling continued on the offensive line Monday, with starting left tackle John Fullington taking some snaps at left guard.
Leach said safety Deone Bucannon’s fourth-quarter hit on EWU receiver Greg Herd (who suffered a concussion) “was a late hit, it was a bad hit, and it’s something we don’t tolerate.” … WSU has been outscored after halftime, 12-0. … The Cougars have started six seniors and four freshmen (including one redshirt freshman, linebacker Darryl Monroe).
Cougars’ opponent this week
6 p.m. Friday, Sam Boyd Stadium, Las Vegas
TV: ESPN. Radio: 710-AM, 96.9-FM, 104.3-FM.
Coach: Bobby Hauck (4-23, third year)
Last Week: Lost to FCS opponent Northern Arizona, 17-14.
Against the Cougars: WSU leads the series, 5-0. WSU won, 59-7, last year in Pullman.
Washington Connections: Two UNLV reserves – junior offensive guard Brad Overand (West Valley, Yakima) and redshirt freshman tight end Andrew Price (Blaine) – are from the state. Hauck and four assistant coaches once worked at Washington: offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Brent Myers (who also coached and played at Eastern Washington), defensive coordinator/secondary coach J.D. Williams, inside linebackers coach Tim Hundley and running backs coach Dominic Daste (who played for the Huskies).
Did you know: Hauck has more losses (23) in two-plus years at UNLV than he did in seven years at Montana (80-17).
Scouting report: Hauck, like many before, finds it difficult to lure talent and fans to UNLV. The Rebels have lost both their games on late field goals at home, where the crowds have numbered 16,013 and 15,257, respectively. Redshirt freshman Nick Sherry was UNLV’s eighth opening-game starter at quarterback in the past nine years.
Nick Sherry643250.0355 13
Tim Cornett 502685.43
Chase Lansford 1446.90
Aug. 30lost to Minn., 30-27 (ot)Sept. 8lost to NAU, 17-14
FridayWashington StateSept. 22Air Force
Sept. 29at Utah StateOct. 6at Louisiana Tech
Oct. 13NevadaOct. 20 at Boise State
Oct. 27at San Diego StateNov. 3New Mexico
Nov. 10at Colorado StateNov. 17Wyoming
Nov. 24at HawaiiHowie Stalwick, contributing writer