SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Washington State has been winning ugly the past two games, while Colorado has been just plain ugly.
Both teams open Pac-12 play on Saturday in Pullman, Wash.
Washington State (2-1) posted narrow victories over Eastern Washington and UNLV that came down to the last play of the game.
Colorado (0-3) is the only winless team in the Pac-12, and is coming off a 69-14 pounding at the hands of Fresno State, after losing its previous game to lower-division Sacramento State.
Colorado coach Jon Embree insisted the losing is not getting to his team.
“They are still preparing hard, as if we were 3-0,” Embree said of his players. “Eventually things will break for us, and they’ll be rewarded for their effort.”
Embree took special steps for his players this week, holding private meetings with each to gauge their spirits. “They are all in a good place,” he said.
Washington State, rebuilding under new coach Mike Leach, is a 19-point favorite.
Leach will not say whether senior Jeff Tuel or sophomore Connor Halliday will start at quarterback. Tuel started the first two games, then sat out last week’s win over UNLV with a knee injury. Halliday threw for 378 yards and four touchdowns in the 35-27 win over UNLV, but was intercepted twice.
“You’ll have to stay tuned and watch very closely,” Leach said this week when asked who will start. “The anticipation is killing everyone, including me.”
Colorado also is unsettled at quarterback, although Jordan Webb is expected to remain the starter on Saturday, Embree said. Webb has started all three games, but backups Connor Wood and Nick Hirschman saw action against Fresno State. None was effective, with the three combining to complete 11 of 30 passes for 173 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions, two returned for touchdowns.
The defensive secondary remains a problem for WSU, with numerous players rotating in and out of the lineup.
“It’s like they are playing keep away in terms of dominating the position,” Leach said. “They need more confidence and a more burning desire to seize the position.”
Colorado also has problems in the secondary. Embree said there is a chance that starting cornerback Greg Henderson (ankle) can return this week. But he made no mention of safety Ray Polk (ankle) coming back. In the absence of Henderson and Polk, Colorado’s secondary has featured freshmen Yuri Wright, Kenneth Crawley and Marques Mosley.
Colorado ranks last in the Pac-12 in total defense (476 yards allowed a game), scoring defense (40 points allowed a game) and total offense (289 yards a game).
Washington State has yet to produce at the level anticipated on offense under the pass-happy Leach. The Cougars are averaging 21 points and 346 total yards per game.
But their pass attack has been fairly potent. Star receiver Marquess Wilson had a pair of touchdown receptions against UNLV, and has caught 13 passes for 218 yards this season. He’s had help from Isiah Myers (16 receptions for 153 yards) and Gabe Marks (12 receptions, 219 yards).
“I think Marquess can play better,” Leach said of the receiver, who has totaled more than 1,000 yards receiving in each of his first two seasons. “Marquess needs to focus.”
Myers has been the steadiest receiver so far, Leach said.
Leach said his team has been too inconsistent, and even compared them to the Buffaloes.
“We’re similar teams from the standpoint that we don’t quite have a tent over our circus right now,” Leach said. “Right now we’re not playing together as well as we could.”
– By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, Associated Press
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