Zack Menchel, Murrow News Service
PULLMAN — After Washington State won four of its first six games, Cougars fans held hope this year’s team would be the one to return to a bowl for the first time in 10 years. Those aspirations took a hit when the Cougars were outscored 169-83 during their three-game losing streak.
“I’m done looking back at Arizona State,” head coach Mike Leach said Monday.
The Cougars (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) must win at least two of their tough matchups against Arizona, Utah and Washington to reach the postseason. They’ll be favored to lose all. Leach was sarcastic when asked if the final three games would inspire a sense of urgency.
“We cheated the first half of the season and had no sense of urgency whatsoever and loafed the entire time, but in these last three games we’re going to have a great sense of urgency,” Leach quipped.
Per custom, Leach said players focused on winning individual battles during the bye week rather than thinking about Arizona (6-3, 3-3 Pac-12) at 11 a.m. Saturday in Tucson (Pac-12 Networks).
“There’s nothing we’re hiding in the vault and there’s no secret stuff we have packed away that we’re going to break out for a special occasion,” said Leach. “We want to do our best every play whether it’s in practice or against the New England Patriots. I like to think they get our best effort every time.”
In a rare scheduling quirk, WSU had 12 days off in between the Oregon and ASU games and 16 days off before Saturday’s game in Tucson against the Wildcats.
“It’s a unique situation, never heard of it, never seen it,” said Leach. “We recruited, practiced, and got some good work in with our young guys.”
Cougars vs. Carey
Arizona has the No. 2 rushing attack in the Pac-12. Much can be attributed to junior running back, Ka’Deem Carey, the bell cow of the Wildcats’ offense.
Carey rushed 216 times for 1,221 yards and 11 touchdowns through eight games, fourth in the country. He averages a conference-leading 152.6 rushing yards. The WSU run defense has allowed three consecutive opponents to rush for more than 100 yards.
“He’s real good, real steady, and plays hard,” said Leach. “He’s got a little power to him and is certainly one of the best backs in the league.”
WSU ranks 10th in the Pac-12 in rush defense, allowing an average of 183.9 yards per game, so the Cougs will see a heavy dose of Carey. The previous three opponents, OSU, Oregon and ASU, combined to rack up an obscene 1,874 yards of total offense.
Linebacker Darryl Monroe can’t wait to face Carey because of how impressive he looks on film.
“Carey is an elite running back,” said Monroe. “You can tell he’s real mature when running the ball. He’s patient and will play games with defenders — showing up in one hole, get us out of alignment, then come back to it.”
“We have to be ready and disciplined because he’s one of the most NFL-ready, more complete backs we’ll see this season.”
Dual threat like Oregon?
The Wildcats bring a set of challenges similar to Oregon, albeit with less prolific athletes. Both teams feature a quarterback and running back among the top 10 rushers in the conference.
With 121 carries for 645 yards and 11 touchdowns, Wildcats senior quarterback B.J. Denker is in the same dual-threat mold as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, ASU’s Taylor Kelly, and Auburn’s Nick Marshall. In the three losses, the Cougars yielded a combined 148 points.
“We’ve been going against dual-threat quarterbacks the past few weeks so we’re just going into the film room thinking the same thing, that they can hurt us with their feet as well as with their arms,” said S Deone Bucannon, who leads WSU with 85 tackles. “We need to have a good game plan and respect his quickness.”
Adam Lewis contributed to this report.