Leach said the Thursday night game is not difficult to manage this time because the Cougars (4-4 overall, 2-3 Pac-12) have a bye week before the game. He also did not seem too concerned with potential class conflicts. Leach noted there would be some, but added that weekday games are much more difficult for athletes in sports, such as basketball and baseball, where their seasons run up against finals.
As far as playing on Thursday night, Leach thinks it happened once during his 10-year stint at Texas Tech, but he cannot recall the date. Leach noted that playing on Thursdays was not popular in either the Big 12 or Pac-12 before both conferences signed lucrative television contracts.
The Cougars’ opponent, ASU, nearly garnered enough votes to break into the top 25 after its 53-24 win last week against Washington. The Sun Devils received 108 votes, which is the most among non-ranked teams. ASU (5-2, 3-1) is 8-7 in Pullman, but lost 37-27 in 2011 at Martin Stadium. The Sun Devils responded by beating WSU 46-7 last year.
“Not really,” said Leach, when asked if revenge is a factor. “I think the motivation needs to be to play the very best you can.”
ASU is guided by Idaho native Taylor Kelly. The junior second-year starter has completed 173 of 279 passes for 2,236, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“He makes plays,” Leach said. “He’s not a really flashy guy.”
The Sun Devils also feature one of the conference’s top running backs in senior Marion Grice. He has rushed for 553 yards and 12 touchdowns on 111 carries and is a factor in the receiving game with 33 receptions.
“He’s a versatile guy,” Leach said. “He’s good at catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s a good runner.”
On the other side of the ball, ASU ranks 23rd among Football Bowl Subdivision programs in total defense. The Sun Devils allow an average of just 349.3 yards per game.
“Predominately seniors and they have gotten better,” Leach said. “They’re a group of guys who have played together for a long time.”
AS FOR WSU, Leach was asked to give an assessment of his offensive line. The Cougars have allowed 15 sacks, which is tied with Western Michigan for 62nd among FBS teams. In 2012, WSU allowed an FBS-worst 57 sacks.
“All of them have actually played college football,” said Leach, adding that only John Fullington and Matt Goetz had any major-college football experience heading into last season. “We’re bigger, we’re stronger and we’re more experienced.”
Leach then was asked to give the unit a grade for this season compared with 2012.
“Nice try,” he said. “I don’t really do that. I feel like we’ve improved … but we’ve got to get better.”
Leach said some of the bigger surprises during his two-year tenure have been the play of a trio of former walk-ons – center Elliott Bosch, guard Joe Dahl and tackle Gunnar Eklund.
Leach was asked about the status of redshirt freshman cornerback Alex Jackson, who no longer is listed on the roster.
“Suspended,” he said. “When he comes back, you’ll be the first to know.”
Leach gave a simple “no” response when asked if he has any concerns about junior signal-caller Connor Halliday developing tendonitis in his shoulder from throwing so much. Halliday attempted an FBS-record 89 passes during Saturday’s 62-38 loss at No. 2 Oregon.