PULLMAN – Washington State football coach Mike Leach is a big movie buff.
That helps explain his imaginative way of telling reporters he has no intention of revealing WSU’s starting quarterback until Saturday.
“I’m not a guy who tells people the end of a movie if they haven’t seen it, so I’m not going to share it (the quarterback decision) with you,” Leach said wryly. “If you want to see how it turns out, you’ve got to come see the movie.”
Washington State’s football “theater” could be packed Saturday when the Cougars and struggling Colorado open the Pacific-12 Conference season at Martin Stadium (1 p.m., FX). WSU athletic director Bill Moos said Monday he expects a second straight sellout, unprecedented at WSU since 2006.
The Cougars (2-1) are bidding for their third straight win, which would be another first since 2006. WSU is favored by 181/2 points for the homecoming game, even though it appears that no one – including quarterback Jeff Tuel (who sat out last week with a knee injury) and Connor Halliday – knows who will start under center.
“We’re not told much, either,” Halliday said.
The Cougars, as usual, did not practice Monday after going through a light workout Sunday.
“I know his knee’s feeling better,” Halliday said of Tuel on Monday. “He threw the ball a little bit yesterday. He looked good.”
CBSSports.com, which ranks all 124 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, lists Colorado (0-3) at No. 120. Washington State is 86th.
NOW THAT’S SPECIAL
A year ago, WSU’s special teams were special in name only. What a difference a year – and, apparently, a coach – can make.
The Cougars have made wholesale improvements pretty much across the board under new special teams coach Eric Russell.
“A lot of is due to Coach Russell and his approach to special teams,” kicker Andrew Furney said. “Last year was a little embarrassing with how our special teams play was.”
Mike Bowlin ranks ninth in the nation in punting with a 45.8-yard average. Leon Brooks is 27th in punt returns with an average of 12.8 yards each. Furney’s 60-yard field goal is second longest.
Russell, who grew up near Pullman in St. Maries, Idaho, spent the 2010-11 seasons as special teams coach at Tennessee in the football-mad Southeastern Conference. Furney said Russell is bursting with SEC-like intensity.
“Football’s a grown man’s sport down there,” Furney said.
Another new assistant coach having a major impact at WSU is defensive coordinator Mike Breske. His aggressive, blitz-heavy defense has already produced eight quarterback sacks, one year after WSU had just 17 all season.
Travis Long, a starting defensive end for three years, leads the Pac-12 and is tied for seventh in the nation with four sacks in his first season at buck linebacker.
Blitzing places more pressure on the secondary, and WSU’s defensive backs have struggled. The Cougars rank 117th in pass defense (344.3) and 96th in total defense (451.7).
“Some of that stuff (completions allowed) is just too easy,” Leach said.
“We’ve got to be tougher. Some of those kids in the secondary talk about being tough. They need to start proving they’re tough.”
Junior Marquess Wilson is 144 yards shy of Brandon Gibson’s school record of 2,756 career receiving yards. … The Cougars are tied for 112th in the nation with 28 penalties. They’re 116th in penalty yards per game at 92.0. … Leach said the Cougars, on both sides of the ball, have been “really good” on first and second down and “astronomically bad” on third down. … Leach, who does not discuss injuries, said he “still wouldn’t” if the Pac-12 followed the NFL’s lead (as has been discussed) and required teams to reveal injury information.
Cougars’ opponent this week
COLORADO (0-3 OVERALL, 0-0 PAC-12)
1 p.m. Saturday, Martin Stadium, Pullman
TV: FX RAdio: 710-AM, 104.3-FM
Coach: Jon Embree (3-13, second year)
Last season: 3-10 overall, 2-7 in the Pac-12.
Against the Cougars: Colorado leads the series, 4-3. WSU won last season, 31-27, in Boulder, Colo.
Washington Connections: No Colorado players graduated from Washington high schools, but defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo played on Pacific Lutheran’s NAIA Division II champion team in 1987. Wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy is a former Washington assistant.
Did you know: Tuiasosopo is the uncle of former Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo, and he’s a cousin of former Seattle Seahawks star Manu Tuiasosopo.
Scouting report: The young, rebuilding Buffaloes gave up 322 yards and 35 points in the first quarter last week in a 69-14 loss at Fresno State. Simply put, the Buffs can’t pass, run or defend all that well. Kansas transfer Jordan Webb, the starting quarterback in the first three games, was benched in the first quarter at Fresno and might not start this week.
Sept. 1 lost to Colorado State, 22-17
Sept. 8 lost to Sacramento State, 30-28
Sept. 15 lost to Fresno State, 69-14
Saturday at Washington State
Sept. 29 UCLA
Oct. 11 Arizona State
Oct. 20 at USC
Oct. 27 at Oregon
Nov. 3 Stanford
Nov. 10 at Arizona
Nov. 17 Washington
No. 23 UtahHowie Stalwick, contributing writer