Coach Mike Leach kept mostly quiet in Washington State’s preseason. Saturday things gets loud — Auburn is first of four opponents ranked in Top 25 Associated Press preseason poll.
GAME: Washington State (3-9 overall, 1-8 Pac-12) at Auburn (3-9 overall, 0-8, SEC). WHEN: Saturday, 4 p.m., PT, Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL. MEETING: 2nd (Auburn leads 1-0). COACHES: Mike Leach, Washington State; Gus Malzahn, Auburn. RANKINGS: Neither team ranked. LINE: Auburn by 15½. TV: ESPNU. RADIO: KTTH 770 AM.
Other than issuing a brief threat to reporters who write about injury news, Washington State coach Mike Leach conducted a fall camp void of controversy.
Zany quotes came at a premium, and outside the recent transfer of linebacker Logan Mayes, hero of the 2012 Apple Cup, there was no sign of player discontent. For the first time in recent memory, the Cougars avoided sustaining any major injuries to key contributors before playing a game. Will the renewed focus from players and coaches lead to a better WSU team in 2013?
Preliminary indications arrive when WSU travels to Boo Radley country Saturday for their season opener against an Auburn team that last season failed to win a game in the SEC, then fired coach Gene Chizik two years removed from winning a national championship.
If the Cougars can handle the humidity and nearly 90,000 liquored-up Tigers fans, they stand a better chance than what Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed as a 15½-point spread. Their matchup against first-year coach Gus Malzahn and first-year quarterback Nick Marshall are much less daunting than the environment. Auburn’s 4-2-5 defense will be absent three starters.
Marshall was a safety at the University of Georgia before transferring to Garden City Community College, where he spent last season displaying phenomenal athleticism. His passing statistics weren’t as impressive: 57.1 completion rate for 3,142, 18 TDs and 20 INTs.
WSU, meanwhile, features a secondary filled with veterans. S Deone Bucannon, returns after adding 20 pounds of muscle in the off-season. He led the Cougars with 106 tackles and four interceptions last year. Senior CB Nolan Washington emerged during fall camp following an injury-plagued first three years in Pullman. CB Damante Horton, a fellow senior, showed promise as a sophomore (4 INTs) before struggling last year in defensive coordinator Mike Breske’s new scheme. He will likely start against the Tigers.
As will WSU QB Connor Halliday, the redshirt junior whose brilliant flashes were interrupted in 2012 by a lack of poise and inability to hit his check-down targets when wide receivers were covered downfield. His decision-making improved during the spring, though he still would force throws occasionally. Working against him last year was an inexperienced, undersized offensive line that rarely provided the necessary time to throw in Leach’s pass-heavy offense. Halliday was sacked 22 times in nine appearances.
That unit should be better, too, thanks to the emergence of senior RT Rico Forbes, who is fully recovered from the torn ACL that ended his 2012 season before it started. The addition of RG Joe Dahl, a University of Montana transfer, represents a marked improvement in comparison to former starting OL Matt Goetz.
The Cougars sport a 69-43-5 record in season openers. When opening the season on the road, WSU is 20-28-3 all-time after dropping a 30-6 decision at BYU last season. Head coach Mike Leach is 9-2 in season openers and has won seven of his last eight. The last BCS road win to open the season was against Illinois (20-13) in 1998. WSU is 78-34-3 all-time in home openers, including games in Pullman, Spokane and Seattle. Since 1990, the Cougars boast a 15-7 record in home debuts, and are 25-12 dating back to the start of the 1975 season.
SERIES: Washington State is 1-5 record against the Southeastern Conference, going 1-4 against the University of Tennessee before suffering a 40-14 defeat to Auburn in their only previous meeting, the 2006 season opener in Alabama. Washington State coach Mike Leach is 2-2 all time against the SEC.
WSU HEAD COACH: Mike Leach (87-52 overall, 3-9 WSU): Hired Nov. 30, 2011 to replace Paul Wulff, who went 9-40 in four seasons, Leach’s 2012 Cougars led the Pac-12 in passing at 330.4 yards per game and finished the season by beating arch-rival Washington in the Apple Cup. In 10 seasons at Texas Tech (2000-09), Leach earned 10 bowl bids. The Susanville, CA., native, who was raised in Cody, WY., recorded a school-record 84 victories. Leach’s offenses led the nation in passing six times and three times accumulated the most total yards. In 2009, the Red Raiders finished second in passing offense and fourth in total offense, both marks tops among BCS conference schools. Prior to Texas Tech, Leach spent one season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma (1999). That year, the Sooners set six Big 12 and 17 school records.
WSU STATS / NOTES
COUGARS OFFENSIVE LEADERS
COUGARS DEFENSIVE LEADERS
|Tackles||Bucannon 106, Monroe 80, Long 61|
|Sacks||Long 9.5, Monroe 3.0, Coen 3.0, Cooper 3.0|
|Interceptions||Bucannon 4, Coen 3, 4 tied with 1|
|Passes Defensed||Simmons 6, Long 4, Coen 4|
|Forced Fumbles||Monroe 2, Palacio 2|
|Fumbles Recovered||Monroe, Locker, Coen, Byers, Gauta, 1|
Pac-12 Standings / North
|Stanford||0-0||0-0||Sept. 7 vs. SJ State|
|Oregon||0-0||0-0||Sat, vs. Nicholls State|
|Oregon St.||0-0||0-0||Sat, vs. E. Washington|
|Washington||0-0||0-0||Sat, vs. Boise St.|
|California||0-0||0-0||Sat, vs. Northwestern|
|WSU||0-0||0-0||Sat, at Auburn|
Pac-12 Standings / South
|UCLA||0-0||0-0||Sat, vs. Nevada|
|ASU||0-0||0-0||Sept. 5 vs. Sac. State|
|USC||1-0||0-0||Sept. 7 vs. WSU|
|Arizona||1-0||0-0||Sept. 7 at UNLV|
|Utah||1-0||0-0||Sept. 7 vs. Weber St.|
|Colorado||0-0||0-0||Sun, at Colorado St.|
AUBURN NOTES: Gus Malzahn, who served as Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-11, is in his first year as Auburn’s head coach. Malzahn, who won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach in 2010 while helping the Tigers to the BCS National Championship, returned to Auburn after serving as the head coach at Arkansas State in 2012, where he led the program to the Sun Belt Conference title. He was named the program’s 27th head football coach on Dec. 4, 2012 . . . Auburn won three games in 2012 and finished the season by losing to eventual national champion Alabama 49-0 . . . Auburn had six players named to the coaches’ preseason all-SEC team: RB Tre Mason, C Reese Dismukes, PK Cody Parkey and P Steven Clark were second-team picks, while TE C.J. Uzomah and DE Dee Ford were on the third team.
Washington State 2013 Schedule/Results
|Date||Opponent||WSU Rnk||Opp Rnk||W/L||Score||Rec.|
|9/14/13||vs. So. Utah||—||—||—||—–||—–|