Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Of the numerous Pac-12 programs that made coaching
changes last season, the one made at Washington State was furthest from
accomplishing the desired effect. While Jim Mora pushed UCLA to the Pac-12
title game, Rich Rodriguez and Todd Graham got Arizona and Arizona State,
respectively, to bowl games, Mike Leach really struggled in Pullman.
Led by the former Texas Tech coach, the Cougars did start the season at 2-1.
However, both wins came by thin margins (24-20 against Eastern Washington,
35-27 at UNLV) and the loss was a 30-6 rout to BYU. The Cougars would look
back fondly on the first three games though, as they lost eight straight games
from there. The season was at least somewhat salvaged when the Cougars won a
thrilling 31-28 overtime contest to take home the Apple Cup against
All in all though it was a pretty dismal year for the Cougars, especially when
the all-time leading receiver left the team in November after accusing Leach
and the staff of verbal, mental and even physical abuse. Investigations by the
program and league proved to clear Leach's name but it didn't make up for the
failures on the field.
OFFENSE: Part of the reason Washington State struggled was because of a lack
of consistency at quarterback. Leach perfected his Air Raid system during his
time at Texas Tech, but one of the most important aspects of the system was
having terrific play at quarterback.
The tandem of Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday did not provide that. Tuel
completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 2,087 yards, but had as many
touchdowns (eight) as interceptions. Halliday was more willing to take chances
which led him to complete just 52.2 percent of his pass attempts and be
intercepted 13 times. although he also threw for 15 touchdowns.
This season the job will be solely Halliday's as Tuel has moved on. Improving
on his decision making will go a long way for the Cougars.
"(Halliday) had a great spring, did a great job, what I've been impressed is
as a leader he takes the team on his shoulders and he's one of the guys I
think brings people together," Leach said. " The most significant role that a
quarterback plays is enhancing the skills of the other players around him."
The Cougars have plenty of options that gained experience last year, while
being thrown into the fire of the Air Raid. Brett Bartolone doesn't create
many big plays (8.2 ypc) but his steady hands led him to a team-high 53
receptions in 2012. He and Isiah Myers (42 rec, 438 yards, 4 TDs) are the only
returning starters at wideout. Gabe Marks (49 rec, 560 yards, 2 TDs),
Dominique Williams (34 rec, 546 yards, 3 TDs) and Bobby Ratliff (30 rec, 399
yards) will all be in the mix as well.
Leach has never been a believer in the running game and that was clear last
season. The Cougars finished with just 349 total yards on the ground. That
total was by far the worst in the country and made Washington State one of
just two teams in the nation not to have at least 1,000 yards rushing.
Teondray Caldwell ran for 269 yards and returns to be a first-time starter in
his sophomore year. Daniel Jenkins, who transferred from Arizona, will also
compete for touches.
The offensive line play from the Cougars last season wasn't particularly
strong either. In fact it was some of the worst in the country as the Cougars
let up a national leading 57.0 sacks. There are four starters returning to the
unit, but there could be a shake up after such dismal performances across the
DEFENSE: While the offense struggled to score, ranking 11th in the league
(20.4 ppg), the defense didn't do much to stop foes. Washington State ranked
10th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (33.7 ppg) and ninth in total yards
allowed (42.9 ypg).
There are eight returning starters to the unit. The thought is that another
year should turn experience into production.
The leader of the defense is safety Deone Bucannon. The senior led the team
with 106 tackles, while also collecting four interceptions and eight passes
"Deone Bucannon, that's what I pretend to see when I look in the mirror, when
I shave so (he's) in incredible shape and we couldn't be more excited to see
what (he) can do out there on the field," Leach said.
Casey Locker (60 tackles) fills the other safety spot, while Anthony Carpenter
(48 tackles) is another returning starter for the secondary at cornerback.
The 3-4 alignment the Cougars generally use will also benefit from the return
of three starting linebackers. Darryl Monroe is the anchor, coming off a
season when he ranked second on the team with 80 tackles, 8.5 of which came
for loss. Cyrus Coen had 60 tackles and was a threat against the pass, as he
recorded three interceptions. Justin Sagote added 61 tackles from an outside
The defensive line loses a big piece with Travis Long (9.5 sacks) gone. That
will mean defensive ends Xavier Cooper (3.0 sacks) and Ioane Gauta (3.0 sacks)
will need to get better at breaking down blocks and rushing the passer. Both
players have starting experience.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Both place kicker Andrew Furney and punter Michael Bowlin are
back. Furney drilled 14-of-20 field goal attempts, including a 60-yard effort
against Eastern Washington. Bowlin had 58 punts and averaged 41.9 yards per
Caldwell was the top kickoff returner last season, bringing back 27 kicks an
average of 25 yards. Bartolone is the frontrunner to take back punts.
OUTLOOK: It has been 10 years since Washington State made it to a bowl game.
After a 3-9 finish last season it has also been 10 years since the Cougars
have had a winning record. It would have been a lot to ask for Leach to turn
all that around in one season but in year two, the expectation is that the
team will at least threaten for postseason play.
A two-game road trip to face Auburn and USC won't make things easy to start.
Washington State then faces an FCS foe in Southern Utah before finishing the
non-conference slate against Idaho. The Cougars will then play Stanford to
finish September. October features two road contests and two home games. The
toughest of the group is the Oct. 19 contest at Oregon. Two of the last three
games of the season are also on the road, including the annual Apple Cup
showdown with Washington.
Even though it didn't seem like it, Leach did get his team to adjust to his
unique system as the Cougars led the Pac-12 and finished in the top 10
nationally in passing yards (330.4 ypg). If Halliday cuts down on the
turnovers and the receiving corps progresses the offense could be even better.
Still there isn't much evidence that the Cougars will do any more than win a
game or two more than last season.
The Sports Network