- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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It's clear Mike Leach has made a big impact at Washington State. Just not in terms of wins. At least, not yet.
The Cougars head to Stanford on Saturday looking for their first Pac-12 victory in five tries. And they are unlikely to get it.
But Leach's impact is notable in terms of his demanding nature and tendency to give unfiltered evaluations when things aren't as he wants them to be. Some of his players apparently weren't terribly focused during a bye week practice last Tuesday. So they earned some extra work. A lot of extra work.
A dramatic change from past years? Yep.
From Mike Price to Bill Doba to Paul Wulff, Washington State coaches haven't been known for being terribly harsh and demanding with their players. In fact, the first term that comes to mind with those three is "nice guys." Leach isn't like that troika.
“It’s been a pretty dramatic transition," quarterback Jeff Tuel said. "It’s much different than what we were before. I think you’ve seen just by the number of guys who aren’t here anymore that started here with this season, there’s a high demand for production and if you’re not going to produce then you’re in the wrong place, basically. So it has been a dramatic change. And it’s for the better."
That change for the better didn't suit 17 players who are no longer with the team, either due to quitting or being given the boot since Leach was hired last December.
Against Stanford, Tuel will make his first start since facing Eastern Washington on Sept. 8. His back-and-forth with Connor Halliday at the position has been one of the reasons the so-called "Air-Raid" offense has yet to find its high-flying rhythm.
"We ended up in a situation where we've played musical quarterbacks," Leach said. "I think if we'd had one guy that was settled in I think we would have been a little better."
Perhaps it's Tuel's time? He admitted this week that he wasn't comfortable with the offense early in the season. He was tentative, and that's something Halliday is not. He also wasn't comfortable making checks at the line of scrimmage, which meant the Cougars were often running plays into a defense that was well-positioned.
A huge problem has been the success of what Tuel called "cover-8" against the Cougs. That means opposing defenses have been dropping eight into coverage against a pass-first offense, feeling confident that the three linemen can stop the Cougars' running game and still get pressure on the QB.
If a defense can do that, well, that's not good for an offense. It means the defense thinks its three linemen are better than the offense's five blockers.
"When we've had success this year, we've been able to run the ball against it," Tuel said. "It's tough to throw it every single down and be successful."
Ah, but here's a problem with that. The Cougars are 119th in the nation -- second to last -- in rushing offense, with a measly 40.6 yards per game. Or about an eighth of Oregon's ground production per game.
It might be a good time to toss this in: Stanford, fresh off holding California to 3 yards rushing in a Big Game victory, is No. 4 in the nation in run defense (77 yards per game). The Bears entered the contest averaging 195 yards on the ground per game.
So, yeah, this one doesn't stack up well for the Cougs.
Still, Tuel has hope. Hope that he holds onto the starting QB job and hope that the Cougs get off the canvas.
"I want to lead this team to some victories," he said. "Like I said last week, a bowl game still isn’t out of reach, believe it or not. People from the outside looking in can say it is, but it’s not with us. With the position I’m in it’s my job to take us there and I’m going to keep believing until it’s out of reach.”