Washington State posts big improvement in 1st half of season, trying not to look too far ahead

At the midpoint of the 2013 season, Washington State has one more win and more rushing yards than it did all of last season.

That's not good enough for coach Mike Leach.

"We need to be a more consistent team," Leach said this week after the Cougars pounded California 44-22 to improve to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Pacific-12.

Last year the Cougars were 3-9 in Leach's first season. It was the first losing season of Leach's career, but the sixth in a row for Washington State.

Asked if he was pleased that the Cougars had already surpassed last year's win total with six games left on their schedule — starting with Oregon State at home on Saturday — Leach gave his stock answer.

"I feel like we've got to improve this week and win one game a week," Leach said. "It's kind of a repetitious process."

Senior safety Deone Bucannon was a little more enthused by the improvement.

"That is kind of crazy," he said of the win total.

Members of Cougar Nation are already talking about bowl games, but kicker Andrew Furney warned the team cannot do that.

"It's the most wins I've had here, ever, with six games left, so that's really promising," Furney said. "But at the same time we've got to look one game at a time."

"We can't look at a bowl or whatever," he said. "We've just got to take it one game at a time and our goals will be achieved, hopefully."

Defensive lineman Toni Pole said just qualifying for a bowl would not be enough.

"We don't want to just win just two games," Pole said. "I want to win the rest of them. I want to win out."

Washington State last appeared in a bowl game in 2003, and it's been a pretty fallow period for the program in the past decade.

The improvement in this year's team starts with a stout defense.

The Cougars rank fifth in the Pac-12 in allowing 20.8 points per game, and they rank first in stopping teams in the red zone.

On offense, quarterback Connor Halliday and a bevy of talented receivers rank third in the league and eighth in the nation in passing at 359 yards per game.

The Cougars average just 58 yards per game on the ground, near the bottom nationally. But that is a big improvement over last year, when they totaled just 349 rushing yards all season. This year's team already has rushed for 352 yards.

Center Elliott Bosch credited improved offensive line play.

"Offensive linemen want to run the ball," he said. "We take pride in that."

Washington State lost by one touchdown at Auburn in the season opener and 55-17 to No. 5 Stanford two weeks ago.

They have beaten Southern California, Southern Utah, Idaho and Cal. Halliday threw for 521 yards and three touchdowns and Washington State used its highest scoring conference game in 10 years to beat Cal.

Pole said the Cougars are feeling pretty good about themselves.

"We're at our high right now, but we can always get better," Pole said. "We need to rise on all sides of the ball, all the time."