BY SPNW Staff 06:30AM 08/31/2013

Quiet Cougars head to the noise at Auburn

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.

Mike Leach’s Washington State Cougars won  three games last season, but finished strong with a victory over Washington in the Apple Cup.  / Wiki Commons

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

  • 2012 SEASON SUMMARY: Record: 3-9. Home: 2-4. Road: 1-5. Neutral: 0-1. Vs. Pac-12: 1-8. Vs. Pac-12 North: 2-2. Vs. Pac-12 South: 0-4. Vs. Non-Conference: 2-1.
  • Points For: 245 (20.4). Rushing Yards Per Game: 29.1. Passing Yards Per Game: 330.4. Total Offense Per Game: 359.5.
  • Points Against: 404 (33.7). Opp. Rushing Yards Per Game: 163.2. Opp. Passing Yards Per Game: 262.7. Total Defense Per Game: 425.9.
  • 2012 Pac-12 Ranks: Scoring Offense — 11th (19.5); Scoring Defense — 11th (34.2); Total Offense — 9th (358.6); Total Defense — 9th (440.2); Rushing Offense — 12th (30.0); Rushing Defense 9th (171.3); Pass Offense — 1st (328.6); Pass Defense — 8th (268.9); Pass Efficiency — 11th (117.6).
  • Senior safety Deone Bucannon has been named to the Jim Thorpe Award 2013 watch list. Bucannon is one of 48 players included for the award that honors the nation’s best defensive back. The Fairfield, CA., native was an All-Pac-12 second- team selection last season after making a team-high 106 tackles, tied for second-most in the Pac-12 and was the highest total by any non-linebacker.
  • Senior punter Michael Bowlin and senior kicker Andrew Furney are also on national watch lists. Bowlin is one of 25 candidates named to the Ray Guy Award that honors the nation’s top collegiate punter. Bowlin averaged 41.9 yards per punt last season, his first with the Cougars. Furney is one of the 30 players named to the Lou Groza College Placekicker Award Watch List.
  • The WSU defense tallied 35 sacks in 2012, fifth-most in the Pac-12 and tied for No. 11 in the country at 2.9 per game. Following a year in which the Cougars recorded 17 in the 2011 season, the switch to a 3-4 defense saw more linebackers in the backfield as 23 of the 35 sacks came from linebackers. The Cougars also racked up 92 tackles-for-loss, the fifth-highest total in the Pac-12, and seventh-most per game (7.7) in the country.
  • Washington State finished 2012 with the top passing attack in the Pac-12 Conference at 330.4 yards per game. That figure ranked ninth nationally and marked the second-highest average in school history. The Cougars threw for more than 300 yards six times, led by Connor Halliday’s four 300-yard performances, tying for third-most in the conference.

COUGARS OFFENSIVE LEADERS

Rushing

Player G Att. Yards TDs Long Y/G
Carl Winston 10 85 280 5 27 23.3
T. Caldwell 10 56 269 0 26 26.9
Leon Brooks 7 12 78 1 40 11.1
Marcus Mason 10 8 15 0 4 1.4
Team Total 12 252 349 6 40 29.1

Passing

Player G Att. Cmp. Yards TDs/INT Effic.
Jeff Tuel 10 333 212 2091 8/8 119.5
Connor Halliday 10 290 151 1874 15/13 114.4
Team Total 12 624 363 3965 23/21 116.9

Receiving

Player G Rec. Yards TD Long Y/G
B. Bartolone 11 53 435 4 26 36.2
M. Wilson 9 52 813 5 81 90.3
Gabe Marks 12 49 560 2 52 46.7
Isiah Myers 9 42 438 4 36 48.7
D. Williams 11 34 546 3 61 49.6
B. Ratliff 11 30 399 0 49 36.3
Team Total 12 363 3965 23 81 330.4

COUGARS DEFENSIVE LEADERS

Category Skinny
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

Schools Overall Conf. Next
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

Schools Overall Conf. Next
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.
8/31/13 at Auburn —– —–
9/7/13 at USC 24 —– —–
9/14/13 vs. So. Utah —– —–
9/21/13 vs. Idaho —– —–
9/28/13 vs. Stanford 4 —– —–
10/5/13 at Cal —– —–
10/12/13 vs. OSU 25 —– —–
10/19/13 at Oregon 3 —– —–
10/31/13 vs. ASU —– —–
11/16/13 at Arizona —– —–
11/23/13 vs. Utah —– —–
11/29/13 at Wash

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