The first question for Washington State coach Mike Leach during Wednesday’s pre-Holiday Bowl news conference was about the cast on quarterback Luke Falk’s non-throwing left wrist.
The seventh question was about the pet raccoon Leach had when he was a kid, which he mentioned in an article he wrote for the Players’ Tribune.
Naturally, Leach was much more forthcoming about the raccoon, which was named Bilbo Baggins after the character in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” than he was about his quarterback’s health.
“He’s doing great. You can use your imagination all you want about the cast,” Leach said about Falk, who despite whatever’s going on with his wrist is still expected to start on Thursday night. “He has had something on his hand all year and hence we named him ‘the Kingslayer.’ Beyond that you’re on your own.”
And, there was that raccoon.
“I don’t remember when I did that article, but, yeah, I did have a pet raccoon,” Leach said. “Yeah, I kind of would like to have a pet raccoon again, but, you know, bouncing around the country it makes it tough. Then, you know, there’s the time when they, you know, they hit kind of raccoon teenage years and it’s time for them to head off into the sunset. It was a lot of fun, and in some ways every bit as maintenance free as a dog or a cat, you know?”
Toward the end of Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio’s session, the moderator asked if there was one more question.
“Is it a raccoon question? I trapped one once,” Dantonio said.
A year ago, San Diego natives Dezmon Patmon and Jahad Woods watched from the sideline as WSU played in a bowl game in their hometown.
This time, they'll be starting.
Patmon will make his first career start, promoted after the surprising departure of two outside receivers, and Woods will continue his fill-in work at linebacker for the Cougars.
Patmon, a sophomore who played sparingly last year, and Tay Martin are the two new starting outside receivers after Isaiah Johnson-Mack quit the team and Tavares Martin Jr. was dismissed after the conclusion of the regular season.
“He was on the verge of making a move before that,” WSU coach Mike Leach said of Patmon, who started slowly this season before making a surge in October and November.
“If he focuses in, he improves rapidly, so I think that was key,” Leach said.
Woods has been solid and sometimes stellar since becoming a starting linebacker in Week 5 after a season-ending injury to Peyton Pelluer. The second-year freshman is second on the team with 61 tackles, including 2.5 sacks.
Another WSU starter from San Diego is well-established cornerback Darrien Molton, and a number of other players from San Diego County play reserve roles.
SPARTANS’ MAIN MAN
Joe Bachie is a special player.
Special enough to be the first sophomore in 13 years to be named Michigan State’s MVP and the first in 11 years under Dantonio.
More than any other player, the 6-foot-2, 233-pound middle linebacker was the catalyst for one of the nation’s best defenses.
With 94 total tackles (42 solo), Bachie leads a group that is ninth in total defense (giving up 298 yards per game) and just 20.3 points (24th best in FBS).
That alone should give pause to WSU fans, who watched the Cougars struggle in last year’s Holiday Bowl against a Minnesota defense that wasn’t remotely as good as this Spartan outfit.
However, MSU has shown vulnerability against the short passing game. Apart from Bachie, the linebackers haven’t been strong in coverage, and crossing routes have been a problem.
MSU ranks fifth in rush defense but only 32nd against the pass.
Bachie recognizes that the Cougars are a different animal.
“We play an Iowa or Michigan and they’re gonna run the ball and be in regular personnel,” Bachie told the Detroit News earlier this month.
“Then you come to this team (WSU) and … they throw the ball 65 times a game. That’s something you got to prepare for. We’ve been putting in some different stuff, throwing some different looks at them,” Bachie said.
“It’s gonna be a challenge but we’re up for it,” added Bachie, who knocked down an end-of-game Hail Mary as the Spartans won 14-10 at Michigan earlier this year.