By Christian Caple The Spokesman-Review
PULLMAN — Jeff Tuel’s status may be uncertain — to the public, at least — for Washington State’s game at UNLV on Friday.
Tuel, WSU’s senior starting quarterback who left Saturday’s 24-20 win over Eastern Washington with an apparent right leg injury, spoke to reporters after the game and seemed to walk without a limp.
He had jokes, too. So did coach Mike Leach, who doesn’t acknowledge injuries.
“We don’t have injuries around here so he’s 100 percent, and I would think if anything, he can run a 4.5 (40-yard dash time) now instead of a 4.7,” Leach said.
Yeah, OK. It’s entirely possible that Tuel’s injury, which required an ice bag on the inside of his right knee area, is minor and he won’t miss any time. But if Tuel can’t go, the Cougars aren’t exactly hurting for depth at that position. Redshirt sophomore Connor Halliday was part of WSU’s quarterback competition in camp, and completed 5 of 11 passes in relief of Tuel on Saturday.
“You guys saw what he did last year against Arizona State,” said Tuel, referring to Halliday’s record-setting, 494-yard performance against the Sun Devils. “The kid can be as good as he wants to be, and he’s come along in this offense just like I have. I have all the confidence in the world in him.”
The upshot, though, is that it might not really matter either way. Both players are capable, and whoever plays will be passing against a UNLV team that, well, hasn’t been very good.
WSU has been installed as an 11.5-point favorite over the Rebels in some sports books, a spread that might seem a tad high for a visiting team that hasn’t played particularly well in its first two games.
Coach Bobby Hauck’s UNLV squad, though, has started its season in considerably uglier fashion. The Rebels lost in triple overtime, 30-27, to Minnesota at home in week one. On Saturday, they dropped an embarrassing 17-14 decision to Northern Arizona of the Big Sky — the same NAU team that lost its opener, 63-6, at Arizona State.
UNLV’s struggles are not news. The Rebels won just two games in each of the past two seasons, are riding a seven-game losing streak and have lost 10 of their last 11, including a 59-7 drubbing against WSU in Pullman last season.
So the Cougars (1-1, 0-0 Pac-12) head to Las Vegas in search of two things they’ve yet to accomplish in the brief Leach era — a complete, well-rounded performance on both sides of the ball, and a victory on the road.
“I think on all sides of the ball we’re explosive,” Leach said. “Now we have to be consistent. It’s not good enough to be explosive and you fall flat or you go dormant. Right now, we go dormant for too long of period of time.”
To Leach’s point, the Cougars have yet to score a point in the second half this season. And they’ve also been outgained 895-579 in their first two games.
The flashes, though — such as two efficient, impressive touchdown drives led by Tuel in the second quarter on Saturday — are enough for Leach to believe the inconsistency can be reversed.
“I’m encouraged by the fact that we’re capable of it,” Leach said. “There’s a whole lot of teams out there that aren’t even capable, and we are.”