Cougars’ Leach won’t name starting QB in Apple Cup

Washington State coach Mike Leach took time on Sunday to explain how and why he makes good Thanksgiving gravy.

He failed to give any explanation as to who will be his starting quarterback the day after Thanksgiving when Washington State hosts rival Washington in the Apple Cup, not yet ready to make a decision about whether Jeff Tuel or Connor Halliday will get the nod against the Huskies.

“They both have done some good things. They both have a level of inconsistency. Some of it has been musical quarterbacks and some of it has been my fault,” Leach said during a conference call. “But by the same token we try to get on the guy that is hot and that has been tough to identify.”

Tuel and Halliday played in Washington State’s 46-7 loss to Arizona State on Saturday, the Cougars eighth straight loss. After putting a scare into UCLA a week earlier with a massive second-half rally that fell short, the Cougars (2-9, 0-8 Pac-12) struggled in the desert against the Sun Devils and for the second straight road game that got out of hand in the opening minutes.

Tuel completed 8 of 16 passes for 63 yards, while Halliday was 13 of 33 for 173 yards. Both threw interceptions and Halliday had the only touchdown with a 54-yard TD pass to Kristoff Williams in the final minute of the game.

“I think we played hard, we just had some guys out of position at some times, didn’t execute and the game just kind of got away from us,” Washington State running back Carl Winston said.

The Cougars continued their maddening trend of playing competitively against the top of the Pac-12, only to follow up with a dud against others. The Cougars played even with Oregon and flustered Oregon State earlier in the season, only to follow up with a lackluster effort at home against California. Washington State was on the verge of an upset at Stanford, then responded by getting blown out at Utah.

And just last week, after all the unwanted attention from claims of abuse by former wide receiver Marquess Wilson, the Cougars staged a strong second-half rally that fell short 44-36 against UCLA.

Their answer to another strong performance against a top-tier squad? Washington State trailed 18-0 after one quarter and 46-0 after three quarters to the Sun Devils.

“It’s definitely hard, kind of like (we) have mood swings,” Washington State defensive back Deone Bucannon said.

Washington State needs a victory over the rival Huskies to avoid going winless in conference play for the second time in the last four seasons and to avoid yet another nine-game losing skid to close out a season. The Cougars lost their final nine games of the 2009 season, also the last time they were winless in conference play.

Even for being a program that has seen more struggles than successes in the past, going winless in conference play has been rarity. In the past 40 years, Washington State has been shutout in conference play only three times (1975, 1998, 2009).

While beating Washington wouldn’t provide a remedy for all the problems the Cougars have faced in Leach’s first year with an underperforming record and Wilson’s claims, it would give at least some solace of optimism heading into the offseason.

“I’m kind of looking forward to it,” Leach said. “… I think they’re already motivated. I think the biggest thing need to focus on is our effort, our work, our development.”

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