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Pac-12 preview: Washington State seeks improvement in Mike Leach's 2nd year

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 5:08 a.m. MDT

Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach is shown on the sideline during the Apple Cup NCAA college football game against Washington, Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, in Pullman, Wash.  (Ted S. Warren, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach is shown on the sideline during the Apple Cup NCAA college football game against Washington, Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, in Pullman, Wash. (Ted S. Warren, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Editor's note: This is the first of a series previewing the football teams of the 12 members of the Pac-12 Conference.

CULVER CITY, Calif. — Washington State coach Mike Leach has added a couple of new job titles as he prepares for his second season with the Cougars.

“I’m the head zombie or corpse — anything with regard to a team effort or coaching,” Leach said. “If you don’t like the way your players are playing, that’s about how well you’re coaching.”

Leach’s remarks were in reference to comments he made last October when he noted that some of the seniors on the team were “zombie-like” and had “empty corpse” qualities.

It prompted a midseason youth movement in the midst of an eight-game Pac-12 skid.

Arizona State's Jamal Miles, middle, finds running room as Washington State's Deone Bucannon (20), Anthony Carpenter (4), Daniel Simmons (24), and Cyrus Coen close in to make a tackle during the second half in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, in Tempe, Ariz.  Arizona State defeated the Washington State 46-7. (Ross D. Franklin, AP) Arizona State's Jamal Miles, middle, finds running room as Washington State's Deone Bucannon (20), Anthony Carpenter (4), Daniel Simmons (24), and Cyrus Coen close in to make a tackle during the second half in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona State defeated the Washington State 46-7. (Ross D. Franklin, AP)

The season ended, though, on a positive note. Washington State closed things out with a 31-28 overtime victory over No. 25 Washington.

Leach noted that a “great offseason” followed and that everyone worked incredibly hard.

Will it be enough to turn the tide? The answers could come quickly. The Cougars open the season with road games at Auburn and USC.

As is usually the case, a Leach-coached team will likely sport a strong offense.

Junior Connor Halliday is expected to be the starting quarterback. He threw 15 touchdown passes and made five starts last season.

“He had a great spring, did a great job,” Leach said. “What I’ve been impressed with is as a leader he takes the team on his shoulders and he’s one of the guys who I think brings people together.”

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday (12) scrambles with the ball as Oregon's Boseko Lokombo (25) pursues in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, in Seattle. Oregon beat Washington State 51-26. (Ted S. Warren, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday (12) scrambles with the ball as Oregon's Boseko Lokombo (25) pursues in the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, in Seattle. Oregon beat Washington State 51-26. (Ted S. Warren, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The Cougars averaged 330.4 yards in the air last year and return five receivers with 30 or more catches in 2012 and four starting offensive linemen.

OFFENSE: Halliday will have experienced targets in Brett Bartolone (53 receptions), Gabe Marks (49), Isiah Myers (42), Dominique Williams (34) and Bobby Ratliff (30). Center Elliott Bush, left guard John Fullington, left tackle Gunnar Eklund and right guard Jake Rodgers are also back.

DEFENSE: Senior free safety Deone Bucannon, who topped the team with 106 tackles last season, headlines a cast of eight returning starters. The bad news, though, is there’s plenty of room for improvement. The Cougars gave up 35 or more points five times to Pac-12 foes in 2012.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Senior kicker Andrew Furney is one of the conference’s best. Last year he led the team with 67 points and made 14 field goals, including a 60-yarder against Eastern Washington.

EXTRA POINTS: Last season was Leach’s first losing campaign in 11 years as a head coach. He had 10 straight winning seasons at Texas Tech from 2000-09. ... Sophomore linebacker Darryl Monroe was second on the squad with 60 tackles in 2012. ... WSU’s annual game at CenturyLink Field in Seattle this year will be against Stanford on Sept. 28.

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