Cougars eager to keep making big strides

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comNovember 30, 2013 

Washington State’s Marcus Mason runs the ball during Friday’s Apple Cup in Seattle. The Cougars lost, 27-17, but could go to a bowl after a 6-6 regular season.

PETER HALEY/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

SEATTLE — The Washington State Cougars are bowl eligible, but they must wait to find out if they are bowl bound.

“I don’t speculate on that kind of stuff,” coach Mike Leach said. “There is no question we should go to a bowl game.”

The Cougars (6-6, 4-5 Pac-12) ended their regular season Friday at Husky Stadium with a 27-17 Apple Cup loss to Washington.

The six wins meet the minimum for bowl eligibility. However, nine Pac-12 teams have at least six wins, while the conference is affiliated with only seven bowls. The Cougars could be selected for one of those bowls, or for a bowl not affiliated with the Pac-12. Or they could stay home.

“I just feel blessed to even have the chance to play,” senior safety Deone Bucannon said. “I’ve never been in a bowl game. As far as the team goes, we’re going to focus on ourselves and try to get better each and every day.”

Washington State’s last bowl appearance was a 28-20 win over Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl.

Regardless of whether that bowl drought is about to end, the Cougars looked back on their 2013 season as one of progress.

“It’s light years away from when I first got here to now,” senior cornerback Nolan Washington said. “They’re going to keep winning. Leach has a great program here. We work hard. People don’t see what we do during the week during practice. People don’t see what we do during the offseason. It’s only going to go up from here. I’m only excited to watch these guys for the next few years.”

The Cougars went 3-9 in Leach’s first season. They doubled their win total in his second.

“Improvement, but still plenty of places to continue to improve,” Leach said. “I think it’s a definite improvement, but there is plenty of work to do.”

Returning players such as junior quarterback Connor Halliday believe the seeds are planted for more progress ahead.

“I think the biggest thing would be our mentality,” he said. “I know everybody in that locker room is hurting right now just as much as I am. I don’t know if that would have been the case last year or two years ago. The culture’s changed, and coach Leach knows what he’s doing.”

MONROE NOT PLEASED WITH UW CELEBRATION

WSU redshirt sophomore linebacker Darryl Monroe said he was unhappy with how some of the Huskies handled winning the Apple Cup.

“You guys win the game. All right, we feel bad enough,” he said. “But you know, have some class. That’s all I’ve got to say is just have some class.

“You know, we won last year. ... We still shook hands, we went to our fans, we celebrated. But when things got out of hand (Friday) there was trash-talking, disrespectful terms. Things got out of hand, and I really didn’t appreciate it. But there were some players who did have class, like Keith Price and Bishop Sankey, (Jaydon) Mickens. Those players had class. But as far as everyone else, it just kind of got under my skin. You guys did a good job, but keep it classy.”

While Monroe noted Sankey’s postgame behavior, he didn’t exactly heap praise on the UW running back’s 200 ground yards against the Cougs’ defense.

“He’s a decent running back,” Monroe said. “We’ve played better. I thought a lot of what he accomplished, we gave him. I wouldn’t make it more than that. ... They just had a few formations that we didn’t fit properly.”

HUSKY STADIUM FACELIFT IMPRESSES HALLIDAY

Friday marked WSU’s first visit to renovated Husky Stadium, and Halliday came away impressed.

“That’s definitely a loud stadium,” he said. “It’s beautiful, too. Gotta give credit to UDub there: That stadium is beautiful. But we’ve handled noise at Auburn and Oregon and here, so I don’t think that was ever a problem.”

EXTRA POINTS

Washington State’s 13-play, 91-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter was its longest in terms of plays this season. It also was its second longest in yards, behind a 92-yarder at California. ... Halliday’s 282 yards passing gave him a school-record 4,187 for the season. Ryan Leaf set the previous mark of 3,968 in 1997. Halliday’s total ranks third in Pac-12 history. He also set Pac-12 season records for completions (412) and attempts (656). His 28 touchdown passes this season tied for second in school history, and his 52 career touchdowns are fifth on the WSU list. ... Bucannon’s seven tackles brought his season total to 109, most by a Cougar since James Darling’s 136 in 1996. Bucannon’s 379 career tackles are fourth on the school list. ... Senior linebacker Justin Sagote matched his career high with 13 tackles. He had 13 last week against Utah. ... Sophomore defensive lineman Darryl Paulo recorded his first career sack. ... Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Dom Williams caught his team-high seventh touchdown pass.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com @donruiztnt

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