PULLMAN – In an ideal world, all the losses and criticism and angst of recent years would have instantly disappeared for the Washington State football program when the Cougars played their first game under heralded coach Mike Leach last week.
Alas, the real world doesn’t work that way. But the Cougars get a chance to avenge their inconsistent and tentative play at Brigham Young with a victory Saturday over Eastern Washington, the first game at revamped Martin Stadium.
“Coach Leach said there’s no magic formula,” senior quarterback Jeff Tuel said. “There’s no magic plays. No magic coach.
“We still have to go out there and play hard. We have to go out and execute.”
It all starts with the quarterback, Tuel said.
“We need to clean some things up, speed some things up,” he said. “I need to play better and get through my reads quicker.”
Tuel said the Cougars “played too tight” in the 30-6 loss at BYU. Washington State failed to score a touchdown in a season opener for the first time since bowing 34-0 at Kansas in 1971.
“I didn’t think we played with very good tempo,” Leach said. “We went out there tentative.”
“I maybe tried to play it a little too cool and just be too relaxed,” Tuel said. “I need to let myself out more and let some of my passion for the game out and do a better job leading and being vocal for my guys on the sideline.”
Leach, Tuel and others were critical of the poor body language – “Basset-hound-looking faces on the sidelines,” in Leach’s words – of some Cougars at BYU. Obviously, a blowout loss on national television was not the new beginning they envisioned.
“I’m not going to sit up here and lie – it definitely took a toll,” safety Deone Bucannon said. “It hit us hard.
“But like Jeff Tuel said, we came out the next day, the next practice, and we were out there flying around.”
Tuel added, “I expect a whole different team Saturday.”
Eastern Washington is a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) team. However, the Eagles are ranked ninth in the FCS, and they won the FCS national championship two years ago.
“They play really hard,” Leach said. “I don’t think it’s an accident that they’ve had all the success in the past that they have.”
Like the Cougars, Eastern features a wide-open, pass-heavy offense. The Eagles did run the ball 40 times last week, but that was in an easy, 20-3 win at Idaho, a weak Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-A) team.
“We’ve got to get after the quarterback and not let him sit back there and put a strain on our secondary,” WSU buck linebacker Travis Long said.
The Eagles utilize three big, veteran receivers who have 1,000-yard seasons and All-America honors to their credit. Former Foss High star Nicholas Edwards led the FCS with 19 touchdown catches last year. Ex-Steilacoom High quarterback Greg Herd is another key receiver for the Eagles.
“It’s just always nice to kind of put on a show (against FBS rivals) and hit ’em in the mouth a little at the same time,” a grinning Herd said.
Today’s game is the first sellout at WSU since 2007, and the first at a home opener since 1952. ... WSU defensive end-tackle Xavier Cooper, a Wilson High graduate who had been wearing a walking boot off and on for weeks, practiced regularly this week. … For EWU, ex-Washington running back Demetrius Bronson, a Kentwood High graduate, has been nursing a hamstring injury and may be limited or sidelined. … The Cougars moved senior Wade Jacobson from left guard to right tackle (where he started last year before being injured).
EASTERN WASHINGTON (1-0) AT WASHINGTON STATE (0-1)
Noon, Martin Stadium, Pullman
TV: Pac-12 Networks. Radio: 710-AM, 104.3-FM.
The series: WSU leads 2-0. The Cougars won, 46-0, in 1907 and 73-0 in 1908.
What to watch: The Cougars hope to bounce back from a disappointing 30-6 loss at Brigham Young. The Eagles play a notch below WSU in the Football Championship Subdivision, but they’re ranked ninth and won a national championship two years ago. Both teams feature wide-open passing attacks. New Eastern quarterback Kyle Padron is a Southern Methodist transfer who threw four touchdown passes in a 2010 SMU win over the Cougars. Padron and WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel missed most of last season with injuries, and both players looked a bit rusty in their season debuts last week. Pacific-12 Conference teams like WSU generally have a big advantage over FCS teams on the line of scrimmage, but the Cougars have questions on both lines and are still experimenting with different personnel.
TNT pick: Washington State 38, Eastern Washington 24.
2Kyle Padron (QB)6-4/220Jr.
Passed for 460 yards in SMU’s win at 2009 Sheraton Hawaii Bowl.
11Nicholas Edwards (WR)6-3/200Sr.
Foss High grad led FCS with 19 touchdown catches last year.
10Zach Johnson (OLB)6-1/225Sr.
Tumwater High product ranks ninth in school history with 266 tackles.
56Evan Cook (NT)6-3/280Sr.
Todd Beamer High grad lines up next to former Federal Way star Andru Pulu.
10Jeff Tuel (QB)6-3/221Sr.
Ranks 10th in school history with 4,074 career passing yards.
86Marquess Wilson (WR)6-4/185Jr.
Has 18 career TD catches; 20 would rank third in school history.
89Travis Long (OLB-DE)6-4/245Sr.
Seventh in school history with 311/2 career tackles for loss.
20Deone Bucannon (SS)6-1/192Jr.
Third-year starter averaging seven tackles a game for career.Howie Stalwick, contributing writer