TEMPE, Ariz. – Washington State football coach Mike Leach has often said one of his team’s biggest weakness is an inability to deal with adversity.
Mind you, eight straight losses in a 2-9 season amounts to a downpour of adversity.
On Saturday, junior safety Deone Bucannon said he noticed “morale go down” when the Cougars struggled out of the gate in a 46-7 loss to Arizona State.
“That (adversity) needs to bounce off your chest,” Bucannon said. “You don’t ever worry about what happens, you just go out and play the best you possibly can.
“We need to learn how to do that.”
The Cougars also need to learn how to play with more consistency. Leach blames some of WSU’s inconsistency on having 17 freshmen play this season, many of them starting.
Washington State staged a stirring rally last week against then-No. 17 UCLA, but only after falling behind 37-7 at the half. The Cougars hoped to ride the momentum of their second-half heroics into the Arizona State game, and players were at a loss to explain why they played horribly in Tempe.
“I honestly don’t have an answer for you, to tell you the truth,” senior quarterback Jeff Tuel said. “Gotta figure it out as a football team.”
WSU’s beleaguered offensive line struggled yet again. The Cougars may lead the nation with 53 sacks allowed, including seven Saturday.
“We dropped passes, I missed reads, people (pass rushers) came in untouched,” Connor Halliday said after he was sacked six times.
Halliday and center Elliott Bosch flatly stated they do not believe the messy exit of star receiver Marquess Wilson from the team last week had any impact on WSU’s performance Saturday. Bucannon didn’t seem so certain.
“The Marquess thing, it takes a toll on people,” Bucannon said. “People see what’s happening. That’s a distraction, (but) it’s not anything that’s going to stop us from playing as hard as we can.”
The Cougars could salvage some respect for this season and build some momentum for next season by downing arch-rival Washington in the Apple Cup on Friday in Pullman. The Huskies have won three straight years, and they’ve won six of the last eight games in Pullman.
Tuel said Leach tried to steer players’ focus away from the ASU loss and on to the Apple Cup when the team gathered in the locker room after Saturday’s game.
“Basically, he said to get on the plane, to forget about this game and put everything you’ve got into this Apple Cup, because it’s our last game,” Tuel said.
The Cougars are trying to avoid finishing 0-9 in Pacific-12 Conference play. That would match the worst conference record in school history, set by WSU in 2009.