PULLMAN — Near the end of Washington State’s eighth practice of the preseason, with passes being dropped and communication lacking, coach Mike Leach sent his defense to the other side of the field while he informed his offense that he was a little upset with their level of play.
OK, more than just a little.
A tongue-lashing preceded a count of 30 up-downs for the entire offensive unit, punishment because the offense, in Leach’s words, “didn’t come out ready to play” the last 15 or so plays of WSU’s team session.
It was the second time Leach had stopped practice to issue a not-so-gentle reminder that the unit’s focus wasn’t where it should have been.
“Right now we’re a team that loses our concentration when we get tired, and so basically we’ve got to work through that and drill and develop the skill to do that,” Leach said after practice, considerably calmer than he had been 20 or so minutes prior. “… All of a sudden your number’s called and it’s time to rise up and respond, you better be there ready to do it rather than a bunch of indecision. We’ve just got to do a better job of impressing the point on those guys to be ready to tee it up.”
The problem, said senior offensive lineman Wade Jacobson, is mostly mental. Eight consecutive days of practice in summer Palouse temperatures can take its toll.
“It was just one of those days where one thing goes wrong it’s like a little chain reaction,” Jacobson said. “But we cleared our heads a little bit at the end, got it together and did some good things. We had popcorn plays – one good one here, one bad one here – all over the place.”
The defense did appear to have its way. Tyree Toomer put a big hit on freshman receiver Brett Bartolone. Junior receiver Marquess Wilson had a pass broken up from behind by freshman cornerback Ray Ford, which preceded Leach’s first rant.
WSU’s entire receiving corps stayed long after practice throwing short passes back and forth to each other, remaining on the field even after media had completed post-practice interviews.
Leach also had to remind Tuel to look to the sidelines to get the signal for each play call.
“We deliberately leave him out there in that situation to put him on an island so he’s looking at the sidelines, so we need to be good at that,” Leach said. “… We’re not a team that is going to stand back and wet-nurse them through plays. They’ve got to get it from the sidelines just like they do in games.”
But there were issues on the other side of the ball, too. Linebacker Eric Oertel was removed for a handful of plays due to a communication error, replaced in the starting lineup by Cyrus Coen.
The problem? Still mental.
“I know all of us are physically bumped and bruised and it starts to affect you mentally, but that’s how we’re going to start doing well during our games this next coming season,” Oertel said. “We have to play while we’re bumped and bruised and play while we’re mentally weak.”
It’s something every team works through, Leach said.
“I’ve never been a part of a camp and I don’t know anybody that doesn’t work on and address effort at some point in time,” Leach said. “Today’s our day. And if we need to address it tomorrow, we will, because you’re not going to be very good unless you have great effort. All the fancy little plays in the world don’t mean anything unless you have great effort.”
Asked about a Cougfan.com report that OL Rico Forbes has suffered a serious knee injury and could miss the season, Leach stuck to his policy of not disclosing injuries, saying, “As you’re aware, we don’t have any injuries here, so what you’re describing is impossible.” Forbes has been on crutches.