PULLMAN – A few days after comparing the intensity of some of his seniors to that of a corpse, Washington State football coach Mike Leach said his team was full of life Saturday night against California.
WSU’s season record, however, is full of losses.
“Nobody’s pleased with the result,” Leach said “I thought we got better. I thought we played very hard.”
The Cougars slipped to 2-5 overall and 0-4 in the Pacific-12 Conference with a 31-17 setback late Saturday at Martin Stadium. WSU has lost four in a row and, following a bye week, must travel to 22nd-ranked Stanford (4-2, 2-1) on Oct. 27.
“Great time (for a bye),” quarterback Jeff Tuel said. “I think guys need to recharge a little bit. We’ve got some guys banged up.”
Starters Marquess Wilson (wide receiver), Darryl Monroe (middle linebacker) and Deondray Caldwell (running back) were all knocked out of the Cal game with injuries. The Cougars rarely comment on injuries, and safety Deone Bucannon said he did not know if an injury was the reason starting cornerback Damante Horton did not play.
Wilson is WSU’s leading receiver, and Caldwell is the leading rusher. Tuel overcame those losses and several drops to complete 30 of 53 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“Jeff played really well,” Leach said.
Tuel, who suffered a knee injury in the second game and lost the starting job to Connor Halliday, has come off the bench and outplayed the interception-prone Halliday two straight weeks. Leach said he’s uncertain who will start at quarterback against Stanford.
Tuel scrambled well on occasion and was sacked three times, and he said WSU’s much-maligned offensive line “did a tremendous job all night.” The pass-oriented Cougars netted 36 rushing yards, but Leon Brooks bolted through a nice hole for a 40-yard run that was WSU’s longest this season.
Tuel said he needs to throw balls more accurately and receivers have “got to come down” with some imperfect passes. He singled out young receivers Isiah Myers (eight catches for 108 yards), Brett Bartolone (seven catches for 44 yards and two touchdowns) and Dominique Williams (three catches for 60 yards) for praise.
“Isiah played really well,” Tuel said. “He can be just as potent as Marquess if he wants to be. He has a crazy amount of talent …(and) he’s a real smart football player.”
“When Isiah Myers is tuned in, he really plays well,” Leach said. “I think he occasionally hits lapses, and when he hits a lapse, he goes dormant for a while.”
Bartolone, a true freshman, continues to start in the slot. He also returned two kickoffs for 48 yards after Caldwell was hurt.
“You’d be hard-pressed to find a freshman who offers a team more than Bartolone,” Leach said.
“I love that kid to death,” Tuel said. “He’s a competitor. He wants to score every time, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get it done.
“He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. He’s really got an opportunity to be a great player.”
The same has been said of Williams, but the redshirt freshman’s playing time has been limited.
“I pulled Dom aside and said, ‘Hey, you grew up tonight,’ ” Tuel said. “He really did. He needs to make some plays.”
WSU’s inconsistent young defense, coming off a strong performance at Oregon State, was torched for 330 rushing yards and 507 total yards.
Bucannon, who leads the Cougars with 60 tackles, made a game-high 13 tackles Saturday. However, he was faked out of his socks by star California receiver Keenan Allen on a 69-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the first quarter, and that put the Bears ahead to stay.