Leach: The Cougars need to get tougher

PULLMAN — The Washington State Cougars returned home in the wee hours Friday morning, attended classes then practiced for about an hour Friday night.

It was back to the routine, in that sense, after their disappointing loss at Brigham Young. But as Thursday’s season opener proved, the on-field routine needs to change.

As they have been in seasons past, the Cougars were weak mentally in their loss to BYU. They wilted under the pressure of an early deficit, allowed BYU to turn that momentum into a big halftime lead and ultimately fell, 30-6, a result that felt eerily similar to many others over the past four seasons.

The offense struggled, with quarterback Jeff Tuel taking too long to deliver passes while facing more pressure than the Cougars would prefer. The defense had its issues, too, surrendering 294 yards in the first half before settling down a bit after halftime and holding BYU to six points in the second half.

The bottom line, though? They’re not tough enough, Leach said. And the scoreboard isn’t going to change until WSU’s attitude does, though senior offensive lineman Wade Jacobson insisted after Thursday’s loss that the team’s losing past — the Cougars were 9-40 under former coach Paul Wulff — isn’t affecting their psyche.

“That’s over and done with,” Jacobson said. “That’s in the past. People can say what they want, but that doesn’t mean anything about us and who we are right now as a team.”

The Cougars (0-1) are closer than they think they are to being a good team, Leach said.

“We’re a lot closer than we realize because the good stuff’s great, but then also, out of the blue, you’ll see street ball out there,” Leach said.

This week, then, seems to offer an opportunity to remedy Thursday’s problems. WSU plays host to Eastern Washington on Saturday. The Eagles opened their season with a convincing 20-3 win at Idaho on Thursday, though few expect them to offer a legitimate challenge to the Cougars.

It’s a get-well game, essentially. And WSU players have been in this kind of situation before, needing a quality performance to erase the memory of a poor one.

“I think we’re a more mature football team and we’ve got to flush it,” Tuel said. “And we’ve got to move on and get ready for the next game.”

“It’s over, done with and nothing can be changed,” Jacobson said. “Right now, we’re 0-1, and that’s it. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

But there’s plenty they can do before taking the field against Eastern.

“I think right now we’re just too fragile,” Leach said. “It’s too easy for us to get disappointed. We’ve got to be a confident team that doesn’t hope, but we go out there and trust our technique and make routine plays. So we need to go out there this week and reinforce that as coaches.”

“It didn’t fall in our hands,” Jacobson said. “As soon as adversity hit, that was our biggest fear. That’s something we need to overcome and keep playing.”

Fortunately for the Cougars, there are at least 11 more opportunities to do so.

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