Zack Menchel, Murrow News Services
PULLMAN — Bright spots for the Cougars were few and far between in the 55-17 shellacking at the hands of No. 5 Stanford in the annual Seattle Game. The undefeated Cardinal excelled in all three phases – they outgained WSU 560-373 — and made plenty of big plays early to bury a foe that simply did not look ready for prime time in front of an announced 40,095 fans on a blustery Saturday evening at CenturyLink Field.
Late-game showers and a fierce passing attack led by Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan (16 of 25, 286 yards, three TD’s) and wide receiver Devon Cajuste (four catches, 115 yards, two TD’s) crippled any chance of an upset.
Quarterback Connor Halliday played well until the third quarter, when he released a deep ball down the left sideline before a Stanford defender slammed him to the ground.
The pass was picked easily by safety Jordan Richards, who returned it 30 yards for a touchdown. Halliday limped off the field. He tried to return the next series but was unable to walk, so trainers escorted him to the locker room.
Coach Mike Leach doesn’t discuss injuries, but Halliday was able to practice with the team Sunday night.
During his press conference Monday, Leach refrained from naming a starter for Saturday but praised Halliday’s desire to get back on the field.
“I think Connor is tough to begin with and I actually expected him to be at practice,” he said.
Redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca replaced Halliday and hiccupped early as a screen pass intended for wide receiver Dom Williams was intercepted by linebacker Trent Murphy and taken 38 yards for the score.
Apodaca recovered however, finishing with 15 completions on 29 attempts for 138 yards and the first two touchdowns of his career.
If Apodaca plays against Cal (1 p.m., Fox Sports One), Leach seems to have no reservations.
“Austin’s leadership qualities are good. I think they started last spring where he worked hard and developed his rapport with the team,” said Leach. “He went out there and did an admirable job. I think everyone respected his efforts.”
Despite the loss, a prevailing narrative being echoed in Pullman Monday by players and staff alike is to learn from the loss, not dwell on it.
“We just weren’t playing our game, we weren’t playing Cougar football,” said senior safety Deone Bucannon. “We went out, addressed it on film, changed some things, and got better.”
Senior center Elliott Bosch repeatedthat sentiment: “The whole team was upset but we came in and made the corrections on film. It definitely fuels the team and we’ve got to put it behind us because it’s all about how we respond and come back the next week.”
Although Stanford had just two sacks, there was a concentrated effort to rush and hit WSU’s quarterbacks in the pocket, which led to errant passes and miscues.
“When our QB gets hit it’s a reflection on us that we didn’t get our job done,” said Bosch. “It’s going to happen, playing a good defensive line such as Stanford’s, but I think we could have finished a little better.”
When asked to clarify the offensive line’s struggles as a unit, Bosch said, “We did some good things but had some breakdowns at crucial moments up front. It was always one badly missed block getting our QB hit and ending the drive.”
Protege faces mentor
Leach will see a familiar face patrolling the opposing sidelines for the Golden Bears when the Cougars take the field in Berkeley.
Head coach Sonny Dykes worked under Leach for eight years and at two universities, Kentucky and Texas Tech. Leach said the two are on friendly terms and speak with each other at coaching functions.
“We go way back. He was my graduate assistant at Kentucky and I hired him at Texas Tech so we spent a good amount of time together,” Leach said.
Asked about Dykes joining the Pac-12 ranks this year after three seasons of head coaching experience at Louisiana Tech, Leach said, “I was excited for him, as he got a great opportunity. He did a good job at over at Louisiana Tech so I know he’ll do well.”
Upon entering his press conference Monday, Leach had not seen the now-infamous “Popcorn Guy” video in which a clearly fed-up Cougars fan in the stands was caught by television cameras as he poured a bag of popcorn all over himself. It already has a quarter-million views on YouTube.
Leach was shown the video by a member of the media and playfully remarked, “That guy is awesome. I think I kind of felt the same way at the end of that game. His technique was good.
“My wife and daughter will sometimes hold contests where they throw M&Ms up in the air and field it with their mouths, but I think this guy could give either one of them a run for their money.”