PULLMAN – The Washington State football team is two-thirds of the way through its season and ready for a break.
“It’s kind of a perfect time for the bye week,” quarterback Connor Halliday said in the wake of the Cougars’ 62-38 loss at Oregon on Saturday night.
The Cougars (4-4) are a coin-flip team through eight games, and will need to remain so in the final four to qualify for a bowl. While the team has lost its past two games by a combined 114-62, the team showed enough in its loss to the Ducks to think it can still challenge for a postseason berth.
A week after saying that Halliday quit competing in the team’s loss to Oregon State, coach Mike Leach had no qualms with his quarterback’s competitiveness against the second-ranked Ducks, regardless of his four interceptions.
“I thought he kept battling in there,” Leach said.
Unlike the OSU game, in which the Beavers ran off 35 unanswered points, the Cougars rallied against Oregon and scored the game’s last two TDs. With nearly two weeks before their next game on Halloween against Arizona State in Pullman, it will be imperative that the Cougars build on that progress.
One of the biggest improvements was in the way that the Cougars responded when faced with adversity, such as a turnover or a big play by the Ducks.
“I think we did a good job of just moving on to the next play and little things like that,” said defensive lineman Xavier Cooper, a Wilson High graduate who scored a touchdown with a fumble return against Oregon. “We’ve just got to get in the film room and continue to prepare.”
There is plenty for the Cougars to improve. The defense allows the 11th-most yards per play in the Pac-12, and WSU quarterbacks have combined to throw 19 interceptions – three more than any other team in the country.
However, WSU does a lot of things very well. The defense is second in the conference with 11 interceptions and the offensive line is allowing 1.88 sacks per game, down from 4.75 a season ago.
But their successes are masked by their deficiencies, and too often a catastrophic play follows a great one.
WSU’s ability to eliminate those mistakes will determine whether they make it to a bowl in the second year of Leach’s tenure.