Mike Leach is notoriously succinct when talking about the specifics of upcoming football games, but the Washington State coach needed just one word to drastically change the perceptions of his team’s upcoming game at Boise State.
“Yes,” was the explosive utterance.
The typically gruff answer came in response to a question about whether or not free safety Shalom Luani would play against the Broncos. Luani, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention player as a junior, sat our WSU’s season-opening 45-42 loss to Eastern Washington, likely as part of the fall-out following his late-August arrest for fighting at a Pullman pizza joint.
When further pressed about Luani’s punishment, Leach said, “I think that anything that’s an ongoing investigation ought to be like that, but suffice to say I’m comfortable with any punishment we’ve issued and don’t plan to issue any more.”
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The safety was sorely missed against the Eagles. First-year junior college transfer Robert Taylor started in Luani’s place, but was ejected after he was flagged for targeting an offensive player. EWU quarterback Gage Gubrud passed for 474 yards on the Cougars defense, frequently taking advantage of poor secondary play by the Cougars.
Cooper Kupp’s all-alone 26-yard touchdown reception was a particular play where the defense likely felt Luani’s absence, Kupp’s 75-yard dash to the end zone with a safety in hot pursuit was another. Kupp’s key third-down catch on EWU’s final scoring drive might have been more difficult with a big-hitting safety lurking nearby, and who knows if Gubrud’s 30-yard touchdown sprint would have happened if Luani had been available.
No fan of blue turf
Washington State’s coach may not be excited about spending the week watching film of Boise State playing on its hallmark blue turf, but his concern for his own eyes pales in comparison to his compassion for his fowl friends.
“I think animal rights groups better keep an eye on it so ducks don’t break their necks from trying to dive in,” the coach joked on Monday.
Some of the Cougars seem pretty excited about the novelty of playing on a football field that is not green.
“As a kid, you always watched them and were like “oh, I want to play on the blue turf!” said running back Jamal Morrow.
While Leach got in a shot or two at Boise State’s unorthodox take on the concept of “Blue Grass,” he did show some deference to Boise State’s tradition. The Broncos posted undefeated seasons in 2006 and 2009 under current Washington coach Chris Petersen, and have a 22-6 record under third-year head coach Bryan Harsin.
“It’s a place that’s gotten kind of well-known to play because of some of their success, so we’re looking forward to the opportunity to go there,” Leach said. “The one that I remember first was Pokey Allen. A lot of different coaches. Some of those guys who do well at Boise, some of those guys I bet wish they’d stay there.”
However, Leach does not expect what should be a hostile crowd to affect his team, hinting that with the exception of “quiet” Stanford, crowd noise tends to blend together.
“I don’t think I’m going to get shot or anything,” Leach said.