No. 18 Washington State is off to its best start in more than a decade and coach Mike Leach has expressed some cautious optimism as his team prepares to face slumping Nevada on Saturday.
Washington State (3-0) is seeking its first 4-0 start since the 2001 season. The Cougars have a pretty good chance of getting there against Nevada (0-3), which was upset last weekend by FCS Idaho State and is giving up nearly 33 points per game.
''We've been pretty resilient, but not as consistent as I'd like,'' Leach said. ''We are battling consistency on all three sides of the ball.''
Case in point is quarterback Luke Falk, who was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week after tying the team record with six touchdown passes in 52-23 victory over Oregon State last weekend. But that game came as a rebound from the previous one against Boise State, when Falk was briefly benched.
The running game, which was expected to be one of the team's strengths this season, is also not where Leach wants it.
The Cougars are sixth-worst in the nation with an average of just 77.3 rushing yards per game and have a total of 68 carries.
''We have got to get better ...'' Leach said. ''The backs have to hit the hole better.''
Nevada's problems have been much bigger.
The Wolf Pack have opened the season with losses to Northwestern, Toledo and Idaho State.
Freshman Kaymen Cureton will get his second career start at quarterback against Washington State after throwing three touchdown passes last weekend.
''He's a wild horse back there running around,'' first-year coach Jay Norvell said. ''He made some plays with his feet and he scrambled, pulled up and threw and hit open receivers.''
The Wolf Pack are hoping that leading rusher Jaxson Kincaide recovers from a concussion in time to play against the Cougars.
Other things to watch Saturday when Washington State hosts Nevada:
NEVADA CONNECTIONS: Several of Washington State's assistant coaches have been members of the Nevada football program in the past. ''You can't throw a dead cat without hitting somebody from Nevada around here,'' Leach said. ''We're pretty in-bred with Nevada.''
MUMME CONNECTIONS: Hal Mumme created the pass-happy Air Raid offense decades ago with the help of Leach, his long-time assistant. Mumme is also the father of Nevada offensive coordinator Matt Mumme, who naturally runs the Air Raid. Leach said he has known Matt since Matt was a child. ''He's a very likable guy. A steady guy,'' Leach said. ''I thought he'd probably coach.''
POLLS & THE WOLF PACK: Nevada is just 4-26 when playing teams in the Top 25 since moving up to the major college ranks in 1992. The Wolf Pack's last wins against ranked teams came in 2010, when they beat No. 3 Boise State and No. 24 California.
FALK FILES: Falk is the NCAA's active leader in passing yards (11,793), touchdown passes (98), and yards per game (346.9). He is advancing on several team and Pac-12 records.
SUPPORTING KAEPERNICK: Washington State assistant coaches Jim Mastro and Ken Wilson worked at Nevada when Colin Kaepernick was the quarterback there. They say Kaepernick belongs on an NFL roster. ''He needs to be playing and he needs to be playing in the NFL,'' Mastro said. Kaepernick became a polarizing figure when he decided to kneel for the national anthem last season as a protest against police brutality and currently doesn't have a team.
PARTY HEARTY: Leach always answers a question submitted by a student at his weekly press conference. This week a student asked him about the best party he ever attended. ''I've been to a few Jimmy Buffett concerts,'' Leach said. He added that visiting the Flora-Bama bar on the Florida-Alabama border was also a good time. ''There is fantastic people watching, plus you have crawfish,'' Leach said.
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