WSU already at a crossroads in Week 2


Mike Leach sat at the podium following Washington State’s disastrous defensive performance against Rutgers on Aug. 28 and spoke to the lack of expectations that are generally attached to the program he was hired to turn around.

He’s tired of the coddling.

“For too long around this university expectations have been too low, and I think we as coaches and we as players have to change that,” Leach said. “It’s not going to change from the outside. Everybody is going to have 20 pats on the back before they get back to their house.“

In the past six, seven years or so, that would have been true, but a close game against a Power 5 conference school during that span would likely have been defined as a step in the right direction. Maybe even success.

The 41-38 loss was different. It was the single-most deflating loss for the Cougars since at least 2006, and probably longer. Leach’s assessment that those outside the program would shrug it off and carry on like it was just another loss is simply off base.

Unlike in years past, this season carried tangible expectations. Not expectations for signs of improvement, but legitimate expectations for a bowl berth and to be competitive each week in what is widely regarded as the country's second-best conference.

And that's a credit to Leach.

By taking Washington State to a bowl in just his second season, he made the Cougars relevant again. Before last week, it wouldn't have taken much of an imagination to expect a 5-1 start. At that point, the widely-held assumption was that the Rutgers game would essentially serve as an opening act for a nonconference schedule full of routs.

But after watching Rutgers pile up 496 total yards and generally dominate the line of scrimmage -- Leach called it "whipping our defensive line" -- finding six victories on the schedule isn't as easy a task. Not with that defense.

Reflecting on how that unit played Tuesday during the Pac-12 conference call, Leach spoke bluntly about defensive coordinator Mike Breske's game plan and adjustments.

“I think we were one-dimensional scheme-wise. ... I thought we could have thrown more stuff at ’em," Leach said. "I thought we got to a point where we were doing the same thing over and over again."

But not all is lost.

"No question [the problems are] fixable," he said. "I don’t think there’s any doubt about that."

That theory will be tested Friday night against Nevada -- and its Pistol offense -- in a game that will be televised on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Nevada remains a bit of an unknown after beating FCS opponent Southern Utah 28-19 last week, but, regardless, figures to serve as an interesting barometer for the direction of WSU's season.

WSU got off to a slow start offensively last week, but after settling in, Connor Halliday looked like a quarterback destined for a 5,000-yard season. He hit receivers in stride and spread it around, coming up one drive short of at least partially masking the defensive liabilities.

The Cougars might chase 40 points per game this year, and they'll need every one.