PULLMAN – Mike Leach is not accustomed to losing, but he says too many Washington State seniors have grown to accept defeat and provide little leadership.
“Some of them, quite honestly, have an empty-corpse quality,” Leach said Monday at his weekly press conference. “That’s not pleasant to say or pleasant to think about, but it’s a fact.
“That’s why it’s been necessary to have the youth that we have.”
The Cougars have played 14 freshmen, including eight true freshmen, in Leach’s first year as coach. Fifteen seniors (13 on scholarship) are listed on WSU’s roster, but the Cougars confirmed Monday that two of those players – offensive tackle-guard Dan Spitz and defensive end Lenard Williams – have left the team in recent weeks.
Leach said such seniors as buck linebacker Travis Long, quarterback Jeff Tuel and wide receiver Gino Simone have provided “stellar” leadership.
“Some of them have been great (leaders), some of them have been very poor,” Leach said. “Some of them have had this kind of zombielike, go-through-the-motions (attitude): ‘Well, everything is how it’s always been, that’s how it’ll always be.’”
Leach, who never experienced a losing season in his previous 10 years as a head coach (all at Texas Tech), is one shy of his career high of five losses. The Cougars (2-4, 0-3 Pacific-12 Conference) kick off the second half of their season Saturday night at home against California (2-4, 1-2). Pac-12 Networks will televise the game at 7:30.
HALLIDAY TO START
Leach, who benched quarterback Connor Halliday twice Saturday when the sophomore was intercepted three times at Oregon State, said he plans to stick with Halliday as the starter.
“He’d been playing the best until he threw the three interceptions,” Leach said.
Tuel played most of the second half at Oregon State and finished with better statistics than Halliday. However, Tuel threw a costly late interception, and Leach termed WSU’s offensive performance Saturday “a disaster.”
Tuel, who owns many of the top passing marks in WSU history, has struggled with injuries during three of his four seasons. He started the first two games this year before suffering a knee injury.
Simone, a roommate of Tuel, said the friendship between Halliday and Tuel has helped prevent any division on the team about who plays quarterback.
“We don’t have any of that,” Simone said. “Connor and Jeff are probably the two closest guys on the team.”
Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Cribbs said former WSU star Jerome Harrison is “doing pretty bad” since undergoing surgery for a brain tumor last October.
“He’s in and out of the hospital with seizures,” Cribbs told the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.
Cribbs played with Harrison on the Browns, who drafted Harrison in the fifth round in 2006. Harrison earned first-team All-America honors as a senior at WSU, when he rushed for a school-record 1,900 yards.
Harrison’s tumor was discovered last October when he underwent a physical after being traded by Detroit to Philadelphia. The trade was voided, and the Lions have said little about Harrison and have not responded to multiple interview requests.
Long, with 71/2 quarterback sacks, has moved back into a first-place tie in the Football Bowl Subdivision. … WSU junior safety Deone Bucannon is tied for second in the nation with four interceptions. … California is favored by 71/2 points at Saturday’s game, when the first 10,000 or so fans will receive Leach bobbleheads. “It’s flattering,” Leach said. … CBSSports.com ranks Cal 76th and WSU 106th out of 124 FBS teams (counting four transitional teams).
COUGARS’ OPPONENT THIS WEEK
CALIFORNIA (2-4 OVERALL, 1-2 PAC-12)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Martin Stadium, Pullman
TV: Pac-12 Networks. RADIO: 710-AM, 104.3-FM.
Coach: Jeff Tedford (81-52, 11th year).
Last year: Finished 7-6 overall, 4-5 in the Pac-12.
Against the Cougars: California leads the series, 43-23-5. The Golden Bears have won seven straight over WSU, including the past three meetings in Pullman.
Washington Connections: Starting defensive end Deandre Coleman was a Parade All-American at Seattle’s Garfield High School. Offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, a Port Angeles native, was a standout offensive guard at WSU. Defensive line coach Todd Howard held the same title at Washington State last year before the entire coaching staff was replaced after the season.
Did you know? The Bears have held WSU to seven points or less three of the past six years, including last season’s 30-7 romp in San Francisco.
Scouting report: The 6-foot-5, 309-pound Coleman is a load coming off the edge, and WSU’s offensive line continues to struggle. WSU coach Mike Leach says the O-line is “definitely” the No. 1 focus in recruiting. Cal’s wobbly O-line has given up the most quarterback sacks (29) in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and WSU’s defense ranks ninth in collecting sacks with 19. Calls for the firing of Tedford, the winningest coach in Bears history, have subsided since Cal snapped a three-game losing streak by clobbering then-No. 25 UCLA, 43-17, last Saturday at homecoming. Athletic quarterback Zach Maynard was finally given some time to throw and fired two of his four touchdown passes to Keenan Allen, one of the nation’s premier receivers. Cal has three quality running backs capable of making big plays if the big hosses up front do their jobs. STATISTICAL LEADERS
Zach Maynard18111261.91348 95
Sept. 1lost to Nevada, 31-24
Sept. 8def. So. Utah, 50-31
Sept. 15lost to Ohio State 35-28
Sept. 22lost to USC 27-9
Sept. 29lost to Arizona State, 27-17
Oct. 6def. UCLA, 43-17 Saturdayat Washington State
Oct. 27at Utah
Nov. 10 Oregon
Nov. 17 at Oregon StateHowie Stalwick, contributing writer