WSU coach Mike Leach glad to be 3-0, but says team must improve quickly

Scott Hanson

The Seattle Times

Same plot, different season.

For the second straight year, Washington State enters a late September nationally televised Friday night game against USC undefeated.

The Cougars liked how the story turned out last year, a 30-27 win over the No. 5 Trojans that vaulted WSU to No. 11 in the rankings.

Washington State entered this season with a lot lower outside expectations, but the Cougars have rolled to three straight victories, including last week’s 59-24 win over Eastern Washington.

“I’m glad we are 3-0,” Leach said. “I think we have to improve, and I think we have to improve a lot this week, quickly. We have to make sure we get a week better this week.”

USC enters the game 1-2 and in desperate need of a win after losing 37-14 at Texas last weekend. But despite the attention Friday’s game will get, Leach said he is not doing anything special this week.

“Not really, because you’re trying to play your best every time,” he said. “And if we’re actually doing that, there shouldn’t be room for change.”

The Cougars were picked fifth in the Pac-12 North but, despite outscoring Wyoming, San Jose State and Eastern Washington by a combined score of 131-43, Leach said his team has not exceeded his expectations.

“Not really: Our expectations start out real high, and we had a really good offseason,” said Leach, who said some of the freshmen are further along than he expected. “And also of course, we got a pretty good preview internally of our guys, both in the offseason and in spring football. But we are highly motivated and have pretty good chemistry going right now and we want to keep this going.”

And Leach made it clear he never worried about the outside predictions.

“We’ve won a bunch of games the last three years, and they didn’t think we were any good those years either,” he said. “So I pretty much ignore that. If I valued those opinions, they would probably get a call, and I would ask them which plays we should run, what they like on third down and who we should recruit — and ironically, none of those people got one call. So I don’t know if I missed the boat on that, but right now I have no plans to call them.”

Cougars honored

Washington State players took took two of the Pac-12’s weekly honors. Graduate transfer quarterback Gardner Minshew was named the Pac-12’s offensive player of the week and freshman Travell Harris was named special teams player of the week for their performances in the 59-24 win over Eastern.

Minshew completed 45 of 57 passes for a career-high 470 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and had no interceptions. His previous high for passing yardage in a game was 463 yards for East Carolina last season.

Harris returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Finishing strong

The Cougars have outscored their three foes 52-0 in the fourth quarter this season.

“The biggest thing I think is our entire squad has played well in the fourth quarter,” Leach said. “Offense, obviously, but defense and special teams too. We’ve gotten a lot of plays in the fourth quarter, and we’re trying to manufacture that for all the quarters really.”

Said defensive tackle Nick Begg: “That’s the most important quarter of the game, and we try to give no fourth-quarter points. That’s our goal on defense and our offense has taken that fourth-quarter mentality on too, because they’ve been turning it on in the fourth quarter.”

Just another down

The Cougars were 3 of 9 on third-down conversions last week.

“I think we can do better than that,” Leach said. “You’ve just got to make a routine play. Third down is eerily similar to first down, second down, fourth down. You pretty much do the same thing, just execute a play. We’ve done really well in fourth-down situations, maybe because we are anxiously awaiting fourth down, I don’t know.

“But numerically, we haven’t been in a ton (of third-down situations). We’ve been pretty productive on first and second down.”

A flying Leach?

Leach was asked if he could have any super power, what would it be.

“I think to fly,” he said. “You could travel, you could cover a lot of ground, you could see a lot of stuff. Invisible is tempting. Super strong and all you are doing is bench pressing. Real fast and you’re just out on real fast jogs. Invisible would be fun. Ghosts have been doing it for years, so they enjoy it.

“But I think to fly just because of the dimension of the all places you could travel. And all the perspective you could see things from above.”