PULLMAN — It has been a familiar refrain this season for Washington State coach Mike Leach.
He has said on several occasions that his team isn’t tough enough. Sometimes mentally. Sometimes physically. And on Monday, he singled out the team’s receivers for lacking the toughness necessary to catch passes in the end zone, one of the reasons why the Cougars have struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone this season.
Leach began describing the effort required to catch a pass, then said “all of a sudden our fragile little receivers are going to go into the end zone and get frightened. So then all of a sudden they can’t catch the ball. That’s crazy. They just need to learn to be tougher. Fortunately for them, you didn’t ask me if you think our receivers are tough, because if you had asked me they certainly wouldn’t have gotten the answer they’d like to hear.”
Gee, coach, are they tough?
“Hell no, they’re not tough,” Leach said.
Not even freshman receiver Brett Bartolone, who caught both of WSU’s touchdowns in Saturday’s 31-17 loss to California?
“He may be tougher than the rest of them,” Leach said. “At least last game he certainly was. He did get after it last game, made some great plays, scored two touchdowns, certainly ahead of his time as a freshman.”
Leach was a little more complimentary after the game, specifically praising the play of receiver Isiah Myers, who had eight catches for 108 yards. But the Cougars marched into California territory repeatedly without scoring touchdowns, key dropped passes contributing to some of those failures.
“(I’m) talking about the toughness that allows somebody that’s had a football thrown at them not hundreds of times, but thousands of times in a row where they’ve had a reasonably high level of success,” Leach said. “Then all of a sudden in some key situations where it’s thrown at them and it would hit them in the face if their hands weren’t in the way and then they drop it. I’m talking about that kind of toughness.”
Leach said senior quarterback Jeff Tuel will take starter’s reps with the No. 1 offense in practice this week, one week after deciding to go with sophomore Connor Halliday.
Halliday was intercepted twice in the first quarter Saturday, and Tuel completed 30 of 53 passes for 320 yards in relief.
“Initially, Jeff was real conscientious,” Leach said. “Connor was wide open and would pull the trigger. Jeff kind of loosened up and Connor’s gotten reckless at times. If you could clone half of each of them, you’d be in business.”