Washington State football coach Mike Leach, who rarely flatters his opponents, isn’t ready to say this year’s University of Washington defensive secondary is as terrific as last year’s.
But he acknowledges the Huskies’ overall defensive consistency of recent years.
Presumably, that means his Air Raid offense faces a big challenge from Washington in the Apple Cup at Seattle on Saturday (5 p.m., FOX) as No. 14 Washington State tries to land a berth in the Pac-12 championship game.
Washington’s defensive consistency under fourth-year coach Chris Petersen is a function of its depth, Leach suggested.
“They dump those guys in the league (the NFL), then they reload,” Leach said Monday. “Then they’ll dump some more.”
The phenomenon is especially striking this year in the secondary, where again the Huskies are thriving despite losing three stellar starters from last year. As Leach hinted, however, they haven’t faced an opponent quite as pass-minded as the Cougars.
“It seems like they have (reloaded successfully),” Leach said. “They haven’t played a lot of teams that are real determined to throw it a lot.
“As a matter of fact, Utah threw it more than they generally throw it,” he said of the Huskies’ 33-30 win over the Utes last week at Seattle. “So that’s a little difficult to say. But they’re real athletic and they run to the ball really well and they’re talented guys.”
The Cougars are coming off a bye, which will aid them more from a physical standpoint than a tactical one, according to Leach. The extra opportunity for video study isn’t necessarily of value.
“If you have a year to prepare, that doesn’t really help,” Leach said. “It’s not like all of a sudden some light bulb comes on – ‘Eureka, here we find it.’ That never really happens. We’ve gone 11 straight weeks without a break, so I think our team needed some rest. That part’s helpful. The important thing is to stay in rhythm and have a great week of practice.”
Leach hasn’t necessarily gone out of his way to downplay the Apple Cup – but he isn’t one to pump up the rivalry game either. That’s never been his tact.
“You do your best all the time, so there really hasn’t been any holding back, effort, focus with regard to our team,” Leach said. “So it’s not like there’s some extra private reserve in the cellar of the bank that we are able to draw from because all the sudden, this is a game that gets a lot of attention around here.”
The Apple Cup is predictably the hottest ticket on WSU’s schedule this season, but it’s not the first time in 2017 the Cougars have played a ranked opponent with major ramifications. WSU hosted fifth-ranked USC in the fifth game of the season, then welcomed No. 21 Stanford in the home finale three weeks ago.
The Cougars were victorious in both those games – perhaps because Leach and his staff were able to successfully drive home the “treat ‘em all the same” mentality to their players.
“They’ve already gotten both barrels, all cylinders, all the metaphors you want to use, all year long and no, there’s no special extra stuff,” Leach said. “We’re going to have great practices and go out there and just worry about being the best we can be.”
TURKEY AND BOWL
WSU will hold a traditional Thanksgiving feast … at the local bowling alley.
As is customary, the Cougars will go to Zeppoz in Pullman for Turkey Day, then board a charter flight for Seattle the next day.
“If you want to see some of the finest bowlers on earth, go to Zeppoz on Thursday,” Leach said. “You’ll seem some big old people thundering down the bowling alley tossing balls.”
The Spokesman-Review contributed to this report.