Cougs head into bye week a wounded team

PULLMAN — Washington State heads into its bye week wounded.

There are some injuries for the Cougars to deal with, too.

Add up the physical and mental toll absorbed by WSU in limping to a 2-5 (0-4 Pac-12) start this season, and Saturday’s bye comes at just about the right time.

“I’ve always thought that somewhere after the first third of the season’s the best time,” coach Mike Leach said.

“Guys just need to recharge a little bit,” senior quarterback Jeff Tuel said. “We’ve got some guys banged up, dinged up and stuff. We need to get physically healthy.”

That much is true. Three starters — junior receiver Marquess Wilson, freshman running back Teondray Caldwell and junior cornerback Nolan Washington — left Saturday’s 31-17 loss to California with apparent injuries.

Caldwell and Wilson each exited after taking hits to the head area. Each returned to the sidelines without pads and dressed in sweats.

Trainers were seen examining Washington’s left knee in the second half, eventually wrapping it with an ice bag.

So another 12 days without a football game certainly isn’t a bad thing.

“We’re thin at a few places,” said junior safety Deone Bucannon. “And it’s good to get us in and get all our wounds and hurts and aches and pains out, and then show up in our next game in the best condition we are.”

WSU’s next game is at Stanford on Oct. 27, the first of two consecutive road games. And there remain several issues to resolve before that trip to Palo Alto, Calif.

First, the Cougars again need to settle on a quarterback. Leach did that last week, choosing sophomore Connor Halliday as the team’s starter before benching him Saturday after two first-quarter interceptions.

Tuel completed 30 of 53 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns in place of Halliday, providing the Cougars with a bit of offensive spark while still struggling to take advantage of promising drives.

“Obviously it’s not the ideal situation,” Tuel said of having to come into the game in the middle of it. “But I love to play the game and when my number’s called, I’m going to get out there and do what I do and have fun doing it.”

Said Leach: “We have a week to evaluate that. I thought Jeff played really well.

“When he got his opportunity there wasn’t any of this knock-off-the-rust hesitation. I thought he went out there, came out played really polished right off the top and I thought he got better as the game went on, too.”

Whomever Leach chooses will lead a team that plays three of its final five games on the road, needing now to win four of those to qualify for a bowl bid.

After Stanford, WSU travels to Utah, returns home for a game against UCLA, then plays at Arizona State before hosting Washington to end the regular season.

“The biggest thing is we just have to steadily improve,” Leach said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys out there getting better all the time. They got better today. We’ll continue that next week.”

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