WASHINGTON STATE ALREADY has upset a top-25 ranked team, which means coach Mike Leach was quick to dismiss any “shock the world” statements as the Cougars prepare to play at 7:00 p.m. Saturday against No. 5 Stanford at CenturyLink Field. Leach discussed the upcoming opponent, reflected on Saturday’s 42-0 win against Idaho and more during his Monday afternoon teleconference.
WSU (3-1 overall, 1-0 conference) upset No. 25 USC 10-7 on Sept. 5 and Leach said his coaching staff will not play up the opportunity to defeat another ranked team this week.
“If you get too anxious, you hurt yourself,” he said. “You need to worry about being the best team you can be. You shouldn’t allow the opponent to be a distraction.”
That does not mean Leach is not respectful of the Cardinal (3-0, 1-0).
“I think they’re one of the top programs in the country,” he said, adding that they are “nearly identical” to last year’s squad. “I think our conference is full of them. That’s what makes our conference exciting.”
The Cougars had an opportunity to upset Stanford last season, but quarterback Jeff Tuel was sacked twice after he drove the offense down to the Stanford 9-yard line and the clock expired in a 24-17 setback. Leach, who repeatedly noted the Cardinal’s “size and strength,” said the biggest challenge will be containing both lines. Stanford had 10 sacks last year against WSU.
“That was huge because we were in that game last year,” Leach said. “We need to do a better job of protecting.”
This marks the first time the Cardinal and Cougars have played each other outside of their home venues since 1970. Stanford won that contest 63-16 in Spokane.
While Leach prefers to play all home games at Martin Stadium, he said he noticed how “loud” CenturyLink Field was last year when the Cougars lost 51-26 against Oregon.
“Always Martin just because it’s our house, but CenturyLink is great and it’s a good change-up,” he said. “It’s an exciting place to go.”
On Saturday, WSU held an opponent scoreless for the first time since it defeated Idaho 25-0 in 2003 in Seattle.
“There hadn’t been a shutout in a long time and there’s nothing more important to a defense than a shutout,” Leach said. “I wanted them to get a shutout. It was good to see them rise up.”
That might have led to an angry postgame exchange between Leach and Idaho coach Paul Petrino. Leach substituted in some starters as the Cougars stopped the Vandals on fourth-and-goal just short of the end zone.
“I have no idea what he’s upset about and I don’t care,” he said. “And if I did know, which I don't, I wouldn’t share it with you. So, next question. ”
LEACH WRAPPED UP his media session by discussing a few players who have emerged from last season. Running back Jeremiah Laufasa, who scored two touchdowns against Idaho, was among them. The 5-foot-10, 208-pound sophomore has rushed for 65 yards and a team-high four touchdowns on 13 carries this season.
“He just brings a lot of power when he runs the ball,” Leach said. “He’s more elusive than you think.”
The latter, Leach said, along with Laufasa’s pass-catching prowess, are the reasons why he is receiving playing time this year.
“He works really hard and the biggest thing is he got more quicker and flexible,” Leach said.
A pair of wide receivers also have impressed Leach. He said junior Isiah Myers’ versatility helps get him onto the field in a variety of positions, while senior Leon Brooks is transitioning from running back to “H receiver.” The 5-7, 175-pound Brooks has 29 yards on seven receptions this year. He also has averaged 13.1 yards per punt return.
“I think he’s getting better all of the time,” Leach said. “We’re trying to get him on the field more.”
At cornerback, senior Nolan Washington continues to fend off true freshman Daquawn Brown for the starting position.
“Daquawn is really talented,” Leach said. “I think one of the things that pulls [Washington] away is his experience.”
Last year, Washington fans received some criticism for storming the field at CenturyLink after the Huskies beat both Stanford and Oregon State. Leach was asked what he would think if WSU fans did the same.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I like our fans. They’re great. I sort of treat them like grandchildren — they can kinda do whatever they want.”
Leach was asked if he believed in momentum carrying over week-to-week in football.
"There’s definitely momentum," he said. "Any time a group draws from energy and excitement, there’s momentum. But in the end, it's just kind of a decision...I think there's an element in that for our team the last three games.