By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — Washington State head coach Mike Leach wasted no time establishing his starting quarterback for the week.
And perhaps for the rest of this football season.
Leach said Sunday night sophomore Connor Halliday, who was removed from Saturday’s 19-6 loss to Oregon State after throwing three interceptions, will start again for the Cougars this week against California.
It sounds as if the coach might stick with Halliday for the duration, as well, despite replacing him with senior Jeff Tuel on Saturday.
“We’re at the point in the season where we have to invest the reps in somebody,” Leach said Monday. “We just have to make a choice, and I think Jeff’s certainly done some good things and I think a lot of Jeff.
“Initially, I sat Connor down to see if Jeff could give us a spark, let Connor see the field and settle down and he just needs more reps, more experience and learn from experience, really.”
Neither player was made available to media on Monday. Leach still spoke highly of Tuel, who started WSU’s first two games before being slowed by a knee injury.
“He’s one of the greatest team guys I’ve ever been around,” Leach said. “Very supportive guy, works hard, very skilled, good player. If he was our quarterback, I’d feel real comfortable.”
Halliday has completed 105-of-196 pass attempts for 1,284 yards this season, along with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions. Tuel is 65-of-92 for 588 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions.
It turns out Washington State’s stellar defensive outing against Oregon State last week wasn’t by accident.
Linebacker Darryl Monroe said the Cougars more or less lived in the film room last week.
“We started defensive meetings earlier,” Monroe said. “We started doing extra walk-throughs, extra film sessions. We’d come after tutoring, before tutoring, after class, before class, after dinner, 9 o’clock at night, 9 o’clock in the morning. We were always here in the film room. We were always meeting together, passing notes, taking notes, just building on our preparation.”
WSU held OSU to 370 yards of total offense, a number made a little more impressive by the fact the Beavers ran 31 more offensive plays than the Cougars.
Several WSU players said they recognized OSU’s offensive sets and called out the plays before the ball was snapped, a product of their extra work during the week.
“As practice went on there were no foggy eyes or thoughts or questions about where should I be, where should I fit, what should I do,” Monroe said. “Everything was more clear and crisp. We still had a little mistake here and there but it just felt more smooth and everyone had a clear understanding of where they should be and what their job was.”
“We were calling out the reverses, personnel, being able to understand what they’re trying to execute as an offense,” said defensive tackle Toni Pole.
Leach has said repeatedly this season that the Cougars will play better when they start believing they can be a good team.
But there are certain senior players who aren’t helping with that belief.
“Some of them, quite honestly, have an empty corpse quality,” Leach said. “That’s not pleasant to say or pleasant to think about, but that’s a fact. That’s why it’s been necessary for us to have the youth moment that we’ve had.”
The Cougars have played 12 true or redshirt freshmen this season.
“Playing a bunch of freshmen, true freshmen, we’ve got a higher effort level out of them,” Leach said. “If you’re a senior you need to ask yourself, ‘Why is that the case? How can that possibly be?’”
The first 10,000 fans through the gate for Saturday’s game against California (7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network) will receive a Leach bobblehead doll.
“It’s flattering,” Leach said. “I just don’t know how somebody would have thought of such a thing.”