By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – Washington State has lost three straight games by big scores and is in danger of missing out on a bowl game again.
But coach Mike Leach said many of his team's problems aren't between the sidelines: They are between the ears.
Leach said many of his players are overthinking game situations, trying to anticipate every contingency. That has the effect of slowing down their reaction time.
"It's too tempting for us as a team to clutter our mind with extra stuff, because all that really matters in the next play," Leach said after the Cougars lost to Arizona State. "We spent way too much of the night hesitating."
Washington State (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) has its second and last bye of the football season this week. The Cougars play at Arizona on Nov. 16.
In their last game, they were routed 55-21 by Arizona State on Halloween night.
"I didn't think anybody quit or anything like that," Leach said afterward. "I think guys really wanted to do well, wanted to play hard, but were afraid to make a mistake; afraid to react to something and commit to the play. That's the root of the problem."
That was a particular problem when Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly ran with the ball. Too often the Cougars defense seemed unsure who had the ball, and gave up big yards
"We didn't pull the trigger very quickly (defensively)," Leach said Tuesday.
The Cougars need to win two of their remaining three games to become eligible for a bowl. It won't be easy.
Arizona (6-2, 3-2) is on a roll. Utah (4-4, 1-4) recently upset Stanford. Washington (5-3, 2-3) is their archrival and is always tough to beat at home. But there is also no doubt that this is the more manageable part of their Pac-12 schedule.
Junior quarterback Connor Halliday had some harsh words for his team after the loss to Arizona State.
"We came out and just didn't make plays," Halliday said. "I don't know if hesitant is the right word. I don't know if nervous is the right word."
For Leach, the issue comes down to trust. Players must handle their own assignments and trust their teammates to do the same. Trying to do your job and the next guy's job will not work, Leach said.
"Too often we were second-guessing what our assignment was," Leach said.
He dismissed talk of bowl games.
"We need to focus on the next play," he said.
One problem for the Cougars has been the disappearance of what had been a promising running game. After gaining 113 yards in a loss to Oregon State, the Cougars rushed for just 2 yards against Oregon and 2 against Arizona State.
The Cougars have piled up yards through the air, and are averaging 29 points per game. But they have surrendered more than 50 points four times in the past five games, all of them losses.
Five things to know about WSU's bye week:
VIOLENT HANDS: Leach said WSU receivers need to do a better job of using their hands to get open. "You've got to be violent with your hands. You have to get separation and get open. If you come up to the line of scrimmage passively, you're going to get tied up."
HALLIDAY STATS: Halliday has already thrown for 3,098 yards this season with three games left. He is the first WSU quarterback to top 3,000 yards since Alex Brink in 2007.
ON THE MARKS: Sophomore receiver Gabe Marks already has 63 receptions this season, tied for the seventh-best single season performance in school history.
SPREADING THE BALL: WSU has had at least 10 different receivers catch a ball in eight of their nine games this season.
NIGHT MOVES: Only 20,000 fans showed up for the Halloween game against Arizona State that started at 7:30 p.m. But Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott told reporters in the press box that Thursday and Friday night games will remain on the schedule because of the league's lucrative television contracts. This was the fourth WSU home game in a row that kicked off at 7 p.m. or later.
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