Nov 17, 2012; Tempe, AZ, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach reacts on the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports
Washington State Coach Mike Leach continued to drive home his philosophy about ‘big games’ during his weekly presser. Attribute part of his determined response to being asked basically the same question week after week.
Does anyone seriously believe Leach is going to change his preparation methods?
For the record, here’s what the WSU head man had to say about the significance of playing a ‘big game’ this week against the No. 5 ranked Cardinal:
"“Well they’re all big, they’re the only team we play this week so we’re excited to play them.”"
Perhaps to avoid his own boredom with repetitive inquiries, Leach went on to offer a few tidbits to fuel stories.
“I think (Stanford is) one of the top programs in the country. Our conference is full of them. From one week to the next we’re full of great teams in this conference.”
With an influx of top coaching talent over the past couple of years, a very strong argument can be made that the Pac-12 is the best football conference in the country from top to bottom.
“You do your best,” expanded Leach on what it’s like to compete in the Conference of Champions.
"“Line up and play them. That’s what makes this conference exciting. You know you’re getting tested against the best.”"
Saturday will mark the second time around for Leach to match up against the incumbent Pac-12 Coach of the Year, David Shaw. Not a lot of history, but at least there is a performance to compare.
Despite playing in front of their home town fans last year, Stanford was fortunate to escape the game between these two teams with a hard fought win. WSU struggled mightily to keep their quarterback off the Stanford Stadium turf in a game with a final score of 24-17. The Cardinal defense tallied 10 sacks in an line-of-scrimmage mismatch of monumental proportions.
"“We had a chance to win the thing at the end (last year) and take it in to overtime and just didn’t get it done.”"
Leach offered a concise evaluation on what to expect in terms of the roster talent from Stanford compared to last year’s squad. “I think very similar. I think nearly identical.”
So why should the outcome of the game played in Seattle be any different in 2013?
“We’ve definitely improved. We’ve got to get better this week. We’ve got to get another week better.”
Anyone who has watched the Cougs this season has seen a team that expects to win. In many situations, such observations come off as trite. Not with this Cougar football team and Leach explains why.
"“We’re stronger than we were last year and we’re a little bigger than we were last year. One of the big things is that we’re playing together better.”"
Through the first four games of 2013, when the Washington State defense is on the field, there’s no question they play together. Guys know their assignments and have the athletic talent to follow through.
It’s a stretch for even the most ardent Cougar fan to assert the entire team is playing together. The one thing holding this team back from being undefeated is quarterback play and consistent performance by an outstanding stable of receivers.
Washington State goes into the game against Stanford with momentum earned from three consecutive wins. And Mike Leach knows the importance and role of momentum.
“Anytime a group draws from energy and excitement, there’s momentum. In the end, it’s a decision. ‘All right, we’re excited. We’re going to play together.’ To me all momentum is a decision. Everybody deciding together that they’re excited to play. They’re going to play hard and they’re going to play together. A lot of times an event will spark the momentum…and it takes off.”
Cougar football is poised to take off, rising to a new level of excellence in performance. Make no mistake that the WSU head man isn’t looking at the big picture for his team.
“We have a lot of respect for (Stanford) and their players. We’re concerned about being the best team we can be and playing the best game we can play.”
Expect to see the Coug bring their “best game” Saturday night.
WASHINGTON STATE NOTES
- Last season there were many who were critical of fans rushing the field after a dramatic victory…such as the 2012 Apple Cup. Coach Leach commented on the fanaticism of Cougar Nation, “I like our fans. Our fans are great. I kind of treat them like grandchildren where they can do whatever they want.”
- Leach had high praise for sophomore walk-on running back Jeremiah Laufasa. “There … isn’t anybody that within one year who has improved any more than Laufasa.” He was impressed by the dedication Laufasa has shown to improve as a running back within the Air Raid offense changing from a bulky guy who lifted a lot of weight when working out to a trimmer athlete who is quicker and more agile. Yet Laufasa still has the power that the coaching staff first saw in him talent-wise. And he is great at catching the football, a must for a running back in Leach’s system.