PULLMAN – The fuse was lit months ago, and Washington State football star Marquess Wilson finally exploded.
Wilson, prodded to work harder on numerous occasions by coach Mike Leach and his staff, was suspended from the team after he walked out of an intense team conditioning workout Sunday night.
Asked Monday if Wilson has quit the team, Leach said, “I don’t know. I do know he’s been suspended. If he’s left the team, that’s his decision.”
Leach said Wilson will not play in Saturday’s home game against 18th-ranked UCLA (7:30 p.m., ESPN2). Leach said it is possible Wilson’s suspension could be lifted for the final two games of the season.
Quarterback Jeff Tuel said he has spoken with Wilson but “couldn’t tell you” if WSU’s all-time leading receiver might want to rejoin the team.
Wilson was dropped from the starting lineup two weeks ago. Leach cited Wilson’s work ethic as the reason, but Wilson still led the Cougars in receiving each of the past two games.
Wilson, a junior from Tulare, Calif., ranks fifth in the Pacific-12 Conference and 22nd in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 90.3 receiving yards per game. His 813 receiving yards, 52 catches and five touchdown receptions all lead the team.
Prior to the season, Wilson was noncommittal when asked if he would consider bypassing his senior year to enter the NFL draft. Wilson has not been made available to the media of late.
The Cougars, riding a six-game losing streak, are 15-point underdogs against UCLA. Temperatures in the 20s are forecast for the Dad’s Weekend football game.
FANS REACT TO LEACH
Many fans greeted Leach’s hiring (and Paul Wulff’s firing) with renewed zeal for Cougars football, but some fans have grown increasingly critical of Leach’s harsh comments about players and his team’s inconsistent play.
“I don’t like him,” a sports talk radio show caller said Monday. “I think he’s a bully.”
Leach has plenty of supporters, too.
“He has never said they were weak, crappy players, stupid, worthless, etc.,” one fan wrote on a message board. “He expects effort and execution. That’s it.”
STATS TAKE A DROP
The Washington State team, in Leach’s first season as coach, averages almost 11 fewer points (19.0) and nearly 70 fewer total yards (353.3) than Wulff’s final squad last season. However, this year’s Cougars average 2 more passing yards (324.2) than last year’s team.
On defense, the Cougars are giving up slightly more points (31.78) and total yards (438.6) than a year ago.
More importantly, WSU is 2-7 overall and 0-6 in the Pac-12 with three games remaining. The 2011 Cougars finished 4-8 overall and 2-7 in league games despite playing most of the season without injured quarterback Jeff Tuel. This season, Tuel sat out two games with an injury, and Leach said he expects Tuel to make his fifth start Saturday.
Most observers agree that Wulff left Leach with far more talent than Wulff inherited from Bill Doba. Wulff’s first WSU team (2-11, 1-8) averaged 12.3 points and 251.3 offensive yards and allowed 49.2 points and 459.3 yards a game.
Leach has offered no excuses for the Cougars’ poor record, though he has said he has never played as many freshmen (16). Leach has repeatedly questioned the “mental toughness” of his players, but said it is the coaches’ job to properly prepare the team.
The Washington State Cougars remain last in the nation in rushing yards per game (29.1), rushing attempts per game (19.9), interceptions (16) and quarterback sacks allowed (40). The NCAA, unlike the NFL, includes sacks in rushing statistics. … The Cougars rank 11th in passing, with Marshall the only team averaging more passes per game than WSU (51.6). … It was incorrectly reported Sunday that Utah’s 49 points were a season high against the Cougars. Oregon beat Washington State, 51-26. Also, the Cougars started seven freshmen at Stanford, not six.
Cougars’ opponent this week
UCLA (7-2 OVERALL, 4-2 PAC-12 CONFERENCE)
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Martin Stadium, Pullman
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 710-AM, 104.3-FM
Coach: Jim Mora (7-2, 1st year)
Last year: Finished 6-8 overall, 5-4 in Pac-12.
Against the Cougars: UCLA leads the series, 39-18-1. The Bruins have won four in a row against WSU, including a 28-25 decision last year in Pasadena.
Washington Connections: No UCLA players graduated from Washington high schools, but the coaching staff is loaded with Washington ties. Mora played at Washington and Bellevue’s Interlake High, started his coaching career as a Huskies graduate assistant and later served as defensive coordinator and head coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Running backs coach Steve Broussard played for WSU and the Seahawks before coaching at his alma mater as an assistant. Receivers coach Eric Yarber was a Seahawks and Huskies assistant. Receivers coach Marques Tuiasosopo, who starred at Woodinville High, was a Huskies quarterback and strength coach. Special teams-linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich is a former Seahawks assistant. Tuisasosopo’s father, Manu, played for the Seahawks, as did the famous father of wide receiver Jerry Rice Jr. Freshman quarterback Jerry Neuheisel went to UCLA even though the Bruins fired his father, former Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel, as head coach after last season. Receiver Joseph Fauria is a nephew of ex-Seahawks tight end Christian Fauria.
Scouting report: UCLA, riding a three-game winning streak, leads the Pac-12 South Division. WSU, riding a six-game losing streak, is last in the North. The 18th-ranked Bruins have outscored opponents 132-67 the past three games. The Cougars have been outscored 104-40 the past three games. The Bruins are coming off their most impressive win of the season, a 66-10 homecoming rout of then-No. 24 Arizona. The Cougars are coming off their worst performance of the season, a 49-6 loss at Utah. Senior running back Johnathan Franklin, fourth in the nation with 133.8 rushing yards per game, became UCLA’s all-time leading rusher last week. He powers the Bruins’ 11th-ranked offense (514.9 total yards per game) along with dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley, a redshirt freshman. Don’t overlook UCLA’s defense: The Bruins rank sixth nationally with 31 quarterback sacks, and cornerback Sheldon Price is tied for seventh in interceptions with WSU’s Deone Bucannon and others with four. UCLA is listed as a 15-point favorite by Las Vegas bookmakers.
Johnathan Franklin 18012046.78
Shaquelle Evans 3653114.82
Jeff Locke 4942.90
Field goals AttMadeLong
Ka’imi Fairbairn 161135
Aug. 30d. Rice, 49-24Sept. 8d. Nebraska, 36-30
Sept. 15d. Houston, 37-6Sept. 22lost to Oregon St., 27-20
Sept. 29d. Colorado, 42-14Oct. 6lost to California, 43-17
Oct. 13d. Utah, 21-14Oct. 27d. Arizona St., 45-43
Nov. 3d. Arizona, 66-10Sat.at Washington State
Nov. 17USCNov. 24StanfordHowie Stalwick, contributing writer