PULLMAN, Wash. – Mike Leach was quick to praise his team after Washington State nearly rallied from a 30-point halftime deficit.
Leach, who used the terms zombies and empty corpses to describe his players in recent weeks, was happy with the Cougars effort in a 44-36 to No. 17 UCLA on Saturday night.
"This was a great effort," he said. "We need to build on it."
Leach in particular pointed to the play of backup quarterback Connor Halliday, who threw five touchdown passes in relief of injured starter Jeff Tuel. Four of those touchdowns came in the second half, when the Cougars staged a comeback after being 30 points down at halftime.
"Things slowed down for him and he became more productive," Leach said of Halliday.
UCLA coach Jim Mora was also proud of his team.
"Sometimes they're ugly," Mora said of the win. "It's not always going to be just beautiful."
Brett Hundley threw three touchdown passes to help UCLA build a 37-7 halftime lead. The Bruins were outscored 27-7 in the second half of a night game played in 20-degree temperatures.
"We are 8-2," Mora said. "We won a game in difficult conditions. That bodes well for UCLA football."
UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) has won four games in a row since a loss at California, and is first in the Pac-12 South.
Mora credited Washington State for continuing to play hard in the second half.
"We did not lose intensity," Mora said. "Washington State fought their butts off the whole game."
"We got the job done, that's all that matters," added linebacker Eric Kendricks, who scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery.
Hundley, a freshman, completed 18 of 21 passes for 261 yards, with one interception.
Washington State (2-8, 0-7) has lost seven straight and Leach is still looking for his first league win.
"We played hard on offense, defense and special teams," said Leach. "That's the hardest I've seen this team play."
Washington State dominated the first quarter, then was outscored 30-0 in the second quarter as Hundley threw three touchdown passes and the Bruins piled up 181 yards.
The Cougars played without star receiver Marquess Wilson, who was suspended this week for a violation of team rules and then quit the team.
"I'm not going to talk about anyone that isn't here," Leach said after the game.
The Bruins' defense blocked two WSU field goal attempts, returning one for a touchdown. They also returned a fumble for a score and knocked WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel out of the game.
Washington State took the opening kickoff and drove to the UCLA 23, where the drive stalled. Andrew Furney's field goal attempt was blocked by Datone Jones, and the ball was picked up by UCLA's Sheldon Price, who ran it back 68 yards for a touchdown.
On the next drive, the Cougars got to the 1-yard line before a penalty pushed them back to the 16. Furney's 33-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Cassius Marsh.
Washington State finally scored on its third deep drive of the first quarter, when Halliday hit Dominique Williams with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 7-7. Halliday had just gone into the game in place of injured starter Tuel.
Washington State outgained UCLA 167 yards to 22 in the first quarter.
But it was all UCLA in the second quarter.
The Bruins took a 14-7 lead on Hundley's 16-yard scoring pass to Johnathan Franklin. Teondray Caldwell fumbled on the ensuing kickoff return, and UCLA took possession on the WSU 24. Joseph Fauria caught a 9-yard pass from Hundley to give UCLA a 21-7 lead.
Halliday was sacked in the end zone, with the safety giving UCLA a 23-7 lead. The Bruins also got the ball back and scored on Hundley's 10-yard pass to Devin Fuller for a 30-7 lead with 6:40 left in the first half. Halliday fumbled after a hit from Marsh and the ball was picked up by Kendricks, who ran 40 yards for a touchdown and a 37-7 halftime lead.
Washington State cut into UCLA's lead in the second half while holding the Bruins to one score.
Halliday threw touchdown passes to Brett Bartolone and Marcus Mason in the third, while Jordon James added a touchdown for UCLA on a 2-yard run. Halliday threw fourth quarter touchdown passes to Dominique Williams and Kristoff Williams, the last with 1:31 left. The Bruins were able to run out the clock after that.
Halliday finished with 330 yards on 26 of 43 passing, and was intercepted once.