After two games, Washington State's football team has scored as many touchdowns (three) as the Cougars had taken off the scoreboard by holding penalties.
The main culprit? WSU's offensive line. A pair of blatant holding calls that negated two victory-sealing touchdown plays during the Cougars' final drive in Saturday's 24-20 win against Eastern Washington didn't go unnoticed by coach Mike Leach. He promised pain, and reportedly that's what the unit received Sunday while the rest of the team enjoyed a reprieve from practice.
A salty Leach didn't offer much more insight Monday as the Cougars prepared for a 6 p.m. Friday game at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
“Yea, the offensive line did have a workout yesterday. They sure did,” Leach said. “It wasn’t real taxing on the legs but it was taxing on other aspects of the body.”
Where did they go? What did they do?
Leach wouldn't budge much on the subject.
“We had some maneuvers in the sand to work and develop some focus skills,” he said when pushed by a reporter to explain what part of the body strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo focused on.
The head man was referring to the 40-yard long sandpit carved out of WSU's Rogers Field practice facility. A well documented spot since Leach arrived in Pullman, the area is used as a punitive tool against unruly or undisciplined players.
Offensive line coach Clay McGuire said sending a position group to the "Leach Beach" is a common occurrence.
“In the NFL they get fined for penalties and sacks, so we always have something like that we’ve done around here," McGuire said.
Offensive lineman Jake Rodgers, who wasn't one of the three players chosen by WSU to speak with reporters during Monday's conference call, took to another media outlet late Sunday night to tell fans his evening was less than stellar.
"Extra workout with coachlLoco (Loscalzo) . . . literally the worst thing I've ever done," he tweeted.
Rodgers anchored a position group that created holes for WSU's running backs but committed enough penalties late to thwart multiple opportunities to pull away in the second half. The Cougars rushed for 108 yards against EWU but also surrendered three sacks against an Eagles defensive front that consistently pressured quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday.
A marked improvement compared to the -5 rushing yards the Cougars compiled in their 30-6 season-opening loss to BYU, Leach offered differing insight as to whether the transition during the offseason to yard-wide splits on the line spacing could be leading to more holding calls.
"I don't think necessarily," he said when asked if the change made them susceptible to more penalties. "On any team, the tackles are more exposed than inside. Any time there is a lot of space, the teams that are spread out and wide open tend to get penalized a little more but their opponents get penalized more, too.”
So why is WSU's offensive line, a unit that's struggled for four years, prone to drive-killing calls?
Left tackle John Fullington's hold at the end of the first half against BYU negated a spectacular Marquess Wilson touchdown reception. Monday, coaches moved the three-year starter to guard in hopes of finding a combination of players that can play smarter.
“I think it’s because there’s more one-on-one individual match-ups,” Leach said. I’ve always gauged it on the difference between our (penalties) and theirs. We just had some bonehead dumb ones that are just off-the-charts dumb that we have to have better technique on.”
Tuel limited in practice: The banged-up quarterback who went down with an apparent leg injury in the second half Saturday rode a stationary bike while sporting a sizable knee brace for most of practice. Leach wouldn't comment on whether Tuel will play against UNLV.