By Zack Menchel, Murrow News Services
With a convincing 44-22 road victory against Cal Saturday, the Cougars answered lingering questions regarding perseverance and resolve after a tough loss to Stanford. Aside from pushing WSU to 4-2, the win also put to rest an eight-game losing streak to the California Golden Bears.
WSU senior center Elliott Bosch, a lifelong Cougars fan growing up in Spokane, said that being a part of the team to end the losing skid added a little something extra to the win.
“Talking to my family after the game, nobody could even remember the last time we beat Cal on the road. It was big,” he said.
Coach Mike Leach was pleased his Air Raid offense finished strong in a shootout that saw teams combine for more than 1,000 passing yards.
“I thought it was good that we got into a rhythm early, played together well and distributed the ball,” he said. “We still left a lot of plays and opportunities on the table and need to be more consistent.”
Quarterback Connor Halliday fought through an apparent hip injury, throwing for 521 yards and three touchdowns en route to the Cougars’ second win against a Pac-12 opponent this season.
Halliday finished 10 yards shy of Alex Brink’s school record of 531 yards against Oregon State in 2005.
There was concern that Halliday would have to sit out against the Golden Bears. The injury came against Stanford in Seattle and knocked him out of the game in the second half, but the junior quarterback had little doubt he’d be back under center in Berkeley.
“I was pretty sure I was going to start all week,” he said Saturday. “It’s frustrating that I’m going to be dealing with this for awhile, but it is what it is and I need to go out there and play as well as I can every week.”
O-line lets QB survive
Praise for the offensive line was abundant. Halliday passed 67 times and was sacked only once. He expressed gratitude toward his line in helping him set season highs in pass yards and touchdowns all while protecting his ailing hip.
“Those guys were unreal and really got in a good rhythm up front while dominating the game for four quarters,” said Halliday. “It’s a lot of fun back there when you have all that time to get rid of the ball.”
Bosch said the O-line is not complacent and would like to be able to run the ball more effectively. Regardless, he took pride in the play.
“I think it shows how we’ve grown as a team and its good that even with a win, we watched film and were able to see how we could improve,” said Bosch.
Big-play Oregon State
A tough test awaits a Cougars defense that surrendered several big plays over the top against both Stanford and Cal. Oregon State (4-2, 2-0 Pac-12) rolls into town behind quarterback Sean Mannion and the Pac-12’s second-ranked passing attack behind WSU.
“We’re going to need to be more disciplined with our eyes this week and not give up the big plays,” said Leach.
Mannion has already thrown for more than 2,000 yards with 21 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
“We played against each other in high school, so I’m very familiar with Mannion and know he can really sling it.” said defensive tackle Kalafitoni Pole. “We’re really focused on beating the Beavers but we’re going to need to rise on all sides of the ball.”
Having already passed year’s three-win total, the Cougs are two wins shy of qualifying for a bowl game, but they are in no position to assume anything.
“We’re just trying to win each week so we can’t start thinking of or talking about bowls just yet because we’ve still got a long way to go,” said Bosch.
“Our coaches and my teammates just want to focus on one game at a time and look at getting better each day, making the most of each practice,” said senior safety Deone Bucannon. “When Saturday comes, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to win the game.”
Armed Forces Appreciation Day
In addition to the usual Dad’s Weekend festivities, Saturday is Armed Forces Appreciation Day at Martin Stadium. Deone Bucannon’s mother and father served in the military and was asked to reflect on the importance of the event.
“It is incredibly important to my family and I because it’s made me into the person I am today and instilled discipline in me,” said Bucannon. “Who they are and what they represent is more than I can even explain, It is definitely something that is far beyond my words.”
Bucannon said if not for football, he’d probably join the armed forces too, to honor his parents.
Leach the dog guy — mostly
Leach’s weekly post-game press conference concluded with the fielding of a question from a student regarding references to dogs in his book, “Swing Your Sword.”
The coach discussed several pooch-related topics including pheasant hunting, his favorite childhood dog and his adoration for blacks labs and beagles.
The highlight of the offbeat look into the unpredictable mind of Leach revolved around his take on hand-held mutts.
“First of all, we’ve got to distinguish that there is a difference between a dog and a guinea pig,” said Leach. “These people carrying around dogs that resemble guinea pigs. I can’t see it, I don’t understand it, never have, never will.
“My thought is that if you have one of those bitty dogs that’s like a guinea pig, stick him in a box rather than carry it around in your purse.”