PROVO, Utah — Mike Leach said he was “surprised” and “disappointed” about the poor execution on offense in his first game as Washington State’s football coach. But he seemed even more surprised and disappointed at his team’s grit — or lack thereof.
“We’ve got to be a mentally tougher team,” Leach said following WSU’s 30-6 loss to Brigham Young on Thursday. “If something negative happens, we can’t have all these basset-hound-looking faces on the sidelines.”
Leach didn’t say it, but you wonder if he’s worried about the psyche of a team that has lost 41 of the past 50 games.
“We’re too fragile,” he said. “It’s too easy for us to get disappointed. I mean, we have to be a confident team.”
Thursday’s loss did nothing to boost the Cougars’ confidence. Leach’s vaunted “Air Raid” offense was limited to a pair of second-quarter field goals by Andrew Furney.
“We squandered too many plays,” Leach said. “We’d get a play or two going that was pretty good and then we’d squander two more.
“We never really got into a rhythm.”
Leach said he never considered replacing Jeff Tuel with backup quarterback Connor Halliday. Asked if Tuel will start next Saturday in the home opener with Eastern Washington, Leach was typically playful with the media.
“I don’t know,” he said, a sparkle in his eye. “You just stay riveted to your seat and I think you’ll have something exciting to look forward to next week.”
Both teams committed costly penalties — not unusual in a season opener — but only Washington State had a touchdown wiped out by a flag. That was just one of a series of momentum-halting plays for the Cougars.
“I think as a team we’re a lot closer (to succeeding) than we realize, because the good stuff is great,” Leach said. “But then also out of the blue you’ll see street ball out there.
“As coaches, we’ve got to have the ability to settle them down, the ability to not try to do too much. I thought we vacillated between playing frantic and then we’d play overly conscientious so that we’re trying to not make a mistake.”
Tuel, often scrambling superbly against heavy pressure, completed 30 of 45 passes (both career highs) for 229 yards. He averaged just 5.1 yards per attempt, and his two interceptions led to a touchdown and a field goal.
“I can definitely play better,” Tuel said.
Leach added: “He was inconsistent. I thought he was sharp as far as who to throw it to.”
Leach also said the Cougars “need to play tougher up front on the offensive line.” Tuel was sacked three times, and WSU totaled minus-5 yards rushing.
Glaring errors in the secondary resulted in all three Brigham Young touchdowns, all coming on pass plays. BYU’s second-half scoring was limited to a pair of field goals, the first coming after a strong defensive stand following a 64-yard interception return to the 9-yard line.
“I feel in the second half, we did a great job of playing defense,” said strong safety Deone Bucannon, who led all players with 12 tackles. “But that’s not enough.”
Washington State held BYU to 132 yards in the second half after giving up 294 yards in the opening two quarters.