WSU's Leach incensed with 'fragile little' receivers

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - Jeff Tuel is back on top in Washington State's back-and-forth quarterback battle, but coach Mike Leach is more concerned about the play of his receivers.

Leach this week blasted his receivers for dropping balls, especially in the red zone, during last weekend's 31-17 loss to California.

"How do you drop four balls?" Leach said. "If your hands weren't in the way, they'd have hit you in the face."

The Cougars (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12) have a bye this weekend, leaving them time to focus on the receiving woes. Their next game is Oct. 27 at No. 22 Stanford.

Leach said his receivers have been performing well in practice.

"And then all of a sudden our fragile little receivers are going into the end zone and get frightened, so then all of a sudden they can't catch the ball," Leach said.

He said the receiving corps suffers from a lack of physical and mental toughness.

However, they have been productive at times.

Star Marquess Wilson, for instance, has 38 receptions for 640 yards and five touchdowns. But Wilson had to leave the Cal game in the first half with an injury and did not return. Leach does not issue injury reports, so his status for the Stanford game is unclear.

Other top receivers include Isiah Myers (37 catches, 380 yards), Brett Bartolone (33 catches, 267 yards) and Gabe Marks (28 catches, 404 yards).

Regarding quarterbacks, Leach had settled on sophomore Connor Halliday as the starter the past five games. But Halliday threw two first-quarter interceptions against Cal and was benched in favor of Tuel.

Tuel threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and will take the majority of snaps with the first team before the next game.

"They are playing leapfrog over one another," Leach said. "We need a guy to take the position, run with it and just go."

Tuel said fans may have been expecting too much after the hiring last November of Leach, architect of the Air Raid offense at Texas Tech.

"You have to understand that, just because your head coach is Mike Leach and it's his offense, doesn't mean everything's going to be perfect," Tuel said. "It's not like he can just snap his fingers and, all of a sudden, every single ball is going to be completed and every single read is going to be great."

"It's everyone's first year in the system," Tuel said.

Tuel said he has not heard back from the NCAA yet on whether he will be granted a sixth year of eligibility because of a broken collarbone that sidelined him most of last season.

"It's not really on my mind, to be honest with you," Tuel said.

Instead, he is still focused on the goal of making his first bowl game. The Cougars would need to win four of their final five games to qualify.

"We can still win out," Tuel said. "Teams have done it before."

NOTES: After describing some of his seniors as having an "empty corpse" quality last week, Leach saw an improved attitude versus Cal. "We weren't very corpselike on the sideline," he said ... Leach said his wife got some of the Mike Leach bobble heads given out at the Cal game. He thought she might use them for target practice ... Attendance at WSU home games, including the annual game in Seattle, is averaging 38,000, 10,000 more than last season, with two games left.