PULLMAN — If Mike Leach’s commentary in weekly press conferences during the first half of the 2012 season is any indication, there is little doubt the Washington State head coach could host a successful comedy hour.
Monday’s show wouldn’t elicit many laughs, however.
Leach’s tone turned serious when asked about the veteran leadership on his 2-4 team. He also named his starting quarterback for Saturday’s game against Cal and provided insight on an emerging senior wide receiver.
But first, what about those seniors doesn’t he like?
“I think it’s mixed,” he said of the veterans’ attitudes. “I think with some it’s stellar . . . some of them have been great and some of them have been very poor. Some of them have had this zombie-like, go-through-the-motions, that’s how it’s always been and that’s how it’ll always be.’”
Leach added that the inability of the team’s upperclassmen to provide consistency has forced him to redistribute playing time.
“Some of them, quite honestly, have an empty-corpse quality,” he said. “It’s not pleasant to say or pleasant to think about, but it’s a fact, which is why it’s been necessary to have the youth movement we’ve had. We play a bunch of (redshirt) freshmen and true freshmen because we get a higher effort level out of them.”
Senior wide receiver Gino Simone distanced himself from the group of pariahs the past two weeks. After entering the season clinging to a spot at backup wide receiver, the highly touted product from Skyline High School resurrected his career against Oregon and Oregon State. Saturday he led the Cougars with 83 receiving yards. The performance earned him a team co-captain role for Saturday’s game against Cal.
“I just think he’s just kept plugging away and kept working,” Leach said. “He’s stayed focused and continued to work hard, continued to battle through it. When Gino would play bad, he’d play tight and press. He’s been so wound up he couldn’t function. When he relaxed he really did some good things. I wish I would have seen this same fella in spring because I think he would have been even better than he is now.”
Simone agreed, reciprocating with admiration for a new staff that’s rebuilt his confidence. Dropping 15 pounds during the summer and staying healthy for the first time since his freshman year (36 catches, 330 yards) allowed the three-time All-State selection to adjust to an uptempo offense fellow players seem to be struggling with.
“This staff has come in and put a great deal of focus on making guys confident and allowing guys to play fast and not worry about making mistakes,” Simone said. “When you play fast and don’t really have a worry, better things are going to happen for you.”
STICKING WITH HALLIDAY — Connor Halliday’s abysmal first half against an Oregon State secondary ranked 113th in the country entering Saturday’s game left many wondering if Leach would opt to give Jeff Tuel another start.
The senior quarterback played the majority of the second half against OSU after Halliday’s 9-for-20, 83-yard passing performance forced Leach to pull him following his third interception early in the third quarter. Tuel is completing 70 percent of his passes but also has as many touchdowns (three) as interceptions in 2012.
Meanwhile, Halliday’s meltdown pushed his pick total to nine in just four starts.
A vocal opponent of the two-quarterback system, Leach quashed any speculation about a potential controversy by saying Halliday is the man for the rest of the season.
“(Connor’s) been playing the best until he threw three interceptions,” Leach said. “We’re at the point in the season where we need to invest the reps in somebody so we just have to make a choice.”