PROVO, Utah — Mike Leach’s return to the college coaching ranks was every bit as big a dud as his vaunted offense late Thursday night.
Brigham Young’s veteran defense limited Washington State to a pair of second-quarter field goals in a 30-6 nonconference rout.
The season opener for both Cougars squads was played before a national television audience.
Leach, the designated savior of the struggling WSU football program, had no magic up his sleeves in his first game on the sidelines since being unceremoniously fired two years ago at Texas Tech.
WSU senior quarterback Jeff Tuel, perhaps showing some rust after playing in just three games last year due to injuries, averaged just 5.1 yards a pass attempt and threw a pair of interceptions that led to scores.
Tuel, often facing a fierce pass rush, finished 30 for 45 for 229 yards and no touchdowns.
Tuel and the rest of Leach’s pass-happy “Air Raid” offense — not to mention the WSU defense — will have to improve significantly for the Cougars to live up to the hype and optimism created by Leach’s hiring.
WSU returns to action Sept. 8 at home against Eastern Washington.
“We’re going to go back to practice and get better,” WSU receiver Rickey Galvin said. “We have a lot of room to grow.”
Brigham Young, starting its second season as an independent, raced to a 24-6 halftime lead despite losing star wide receiver and kickoff returner Cody Hoffman with a quadriceps contusion late in the first quarter.
BYU wound up with a 426-224 advantage in total yards after holding Washington State to minus-5 yards on 16 carries (including three sacks).
Brigham Young quarterback competed 25 of 36 yards for 285 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Riley’s so competitive and he’s so tough,” BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said.
WSU stopped Brigham Young on the game’s opening drive, but the host Cougars scored on all four other possessions in the first half. The first score came after Tuel was intercepted at the Brigham Young 20-yard line on WSU’s opening drive.
BYU receivers were wide open in the right side of the end zone when they caught touchdown passes to help forge a 14-0 lead. The home team went ahead 24-3 late in the second quarter when tight end Kaneakua Friel hauled in his second touchdown pass of the game after WSU cornerback Daniel Simmons made a play on the ball and whiffed near the 10-yard line.
Tuel displayed great elusiveness several times to keep plays alive. Bright spots for the WSU defense included a game-high 12 tackles by hard-hitting safety Deone Bucannon and nine tackles for linebackers Travis Long and Jared Byers and true freshman safety Taylor Taliulu.
Taliulu was all over the field. Another WSU true freshman, Teondray Caldwell, opened the second half with an electrifying 63-yard kickoff return. WSU’s drive ended when Tuel threw an interception that Jordan Johnson returned 64 yards to set up a field goal.