In a half-hour news conference in Stanford, Calif., that touched on injuries, near-misses and last week’s wrenching loss at Colorado, the only question that stumped David Shaw was the one about him and Mike Leach: “Can you compare and contrast your guys approaches?”
In a word, the answer was no.
Yet these highly contrasting coaches perhaps feel more empathy toward each other than they’ve felt before, at least in regard to the results they’re getting on the field.
Shaws 8-for-8 in bowl berths since taking charge of the Cardinal. Leach is 5-for-7 at Washington State and is riding a streak of four. Both entered the season with high expectations.
But they both will drag 4-5 records into a clash at 1:30 p.m. Saturday (Pac-12 Network) at Martin Stadium in Pullman. So they both need to finish 2-1 to keep their postseason streaks alive.
“Watching them is like watching us,” Shaw said.
Not stylistically, of course. Temperamentally. In particular, Shaw sees two teams whose highlight reels are more impressive than their down-by-down consistency.
“I told the team yesterday, you take in every single game we’ve played, you take our best plays from those games and you say, ‘Wow,’” Shaw said.
But the Cardinal, who are 3-4 in league play, have been plagued by injuries, especially on offense, and they mustered only 15 first downs last week in a 16-13 loss to Colorado, which broke a five-game losing streak. Stanford led 13-10 before allowing two field goals in the final eight minutes. That’s inexcusable to Shaw, who prides himself on playing the odds and grinding out wins.
“The biggest thing for me, and for everybody in this sport,” Shaw said, “no matter how the game goes — high-scoring game, low-scoring game — you get to the fourth quarter, you have a lead, you’ve got to put it away. We had a chance offensively and we didn’t get it done. We had a chance on special teams, with a field goal in the second half, and we didn’t get it done. We had a chance on defense and ... we couldn’t get a stop.”
As usual under Shaw, the Cardinal are imposing and physical and smart. But they lack the sort of dazzling running back that defined their powerhouse teams earlier this decade. Their respected quarterback, K.J. Costello, has been playing hurt and is labeled as questionable for the WSU game. Their offensive line, so dominant for so many years, has been racked with injuries and isn’t protecting Costello reliably.
Shaw’s Cardinal defeated Leach’s Cougs in their first four meetings, but Leach has won the past three and now is favored to level the tally.
The Cougars have sputtered mainly on defense, notwithstanding a lackluster day for their Air Raid offense last week in a 33-20 loss at California. While Shaw was gritting his teeth through his weekly news conference, straining for positive things to say, Leach was calmly accusing an unspecified segment of his roster of complacency and mental delicacy.
Their personalties and world views are so different Shaw seemed baffled by the request to compare himself to The Pirate.
“We enjoy the game — we enjoy the chess match of game day,” he offered. “My call sheet is 10 times bigger than his, but when you watch him you don’t see that because he’s the master adjuster, right? He’s got five pass plays in the game, but they look like 25 because he’ll call one and then tag a receiver to do something different. He’ll call the same play and tag a different receiver to do something different. ... But it’s really hard to compare and contrast.”
As coaches, that is. Comparing their teams’ mental states is easier.
“When you see their best plays, they’re as good as anybody in America,” Shaw said of the Cougars. “The way they throw it around, the number of receivers they have. They can score 21 points every quarter if you let them. (But) you see some turnovers, you see some missed opportunities.
“Both our team and Washington State — their best is still really good,” he said. “It’s about which team can be at their best for the longest time on Saturday. And be at their best when it counts the most in the fourth quarter.”
COUGARS UNLOAD ISOM, DAVIS — Washington State on Thursday released starting cornerback Daniel Isom and reserve nickelback Trey Davis for unspecified violations of team rules, the Spokesman-Review reported.
The absence of Isom in particular reduces the Cougars’ options at defensive back, where big-play lapses have been frequent this season. A junior-college transfer, Isom was moved from safety to corner after the resignation of defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys in late September.
The junior has made 20 tackles and forced two fumbles. He started the first seven games of the season but has come off the bench the past two contests.
Davis is a true freshman transfer from USC who gained eligibility at midseason after getting a waiver from the NCAA that exempted him from the usual one-year transfer exile. He has made four tackles.
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