WSU coach Leach praises Colorado for its defense and ... mascot
Compared to other coaches, Mike Leach doesn’t lavish a lot of gratuitous praise on forthcoming opponents.
But the Washington State football boss is gushing about the Colorado Buffaloes – not the team, but the beasts that over the years have served as Ralphie, the school mascot.
“One thing I will say, their mascot is just outstanding,” Leach said. “They and Mike the Tiger (of Louisiana State) are by far the best. Butch (of WSU) is a better … symbol of the whole thing, OK, I’ll go with that. But that buffalo and Mike the Tiger, utterly outstanding.”
The coach will presumably be focusing on the human Buffaloes when No. 10 Washington State (8-1, 5-1), the first-place team in the Pac-12 North, aims for its sixth straight win Saturday (12:30 p.m., ESPN) at Colorado (5-4, 2-4). The Cougars are favored by six points.
“They’re good,” Leach said of the Buffs. “They’re like they always are. They’re mean and scrappy and they like to play defense. They like to run to the ball. They’re pretty good at throwing it, pretty good at rushing it.”
Leach weighed in on several topics, as usual, and lauded the WSU defense for its performance in a 19-13 win at Pullman on Saturday over California.
“I thought we played really well on defense, except … we could have got them off the field quicker,” he said. “Offensively, we moved the ball pretty well but we weren’t as great in key situations. And, of course, statistically they (the Bears) might be the best defense in the conference, and I think they are a really good one.”
Although the Cougars outgained California 413-291 in offense, the Bears held a possession-time edge of 31:19 to 28:41, largely because of WSU’s seven penalties for 80 yards.
But Leach’s most animated response was to the question about Colorado’s live mascot.
“And then it’s got the handlers,” he said, referring to CU’s pregame ritual of having Ralphie and a group of studentathletes gallop around Folsom Field at Boulder, Colo. “No, they’re not pulling that buffalo. That buffalo is pulling them.
“Heck, I grew up in the West,” said Leach, who spent most of his childhood in Cody, Wyo. “What can I say? Buffalo is one that’s hard to argue with, unless you have a live grizzly bear out there or something.”
He said it “would be cool” if WSU went back to keeping a live mascot, as it did until 1978, but added that he doesn’t know how well cougars thrive in captivity.
RECEIVER ROLE CHANGE
Asked about junior-college transfer receiver Calvin Jackson Jr., Leach surprisingly said he’s “pretty dead-even” with starter Tay Martin at the Cougars’ X (far left) position.
Martin leads WSU wide receivers with 52 catches (tailback James Williams is tops overall on the team with 58) but was held to one reception for 1 yard against Cal. He was frequently spelled by Jackson, a junior who made three catches to bring his season total to 11.
“I think he’s done real well in practice,” Leach said of Jackson. “He’s got a quick burst to him, which we like. Also there’s no wasted steps. Calvin Jackson doesn’t have any wasted steps.”
Of Martin’s recent dropoff in production, Leach said, “Some of it’s luck and opportunity, but the harder he plays probably the more balls he’ll get.”
FYI: JUST IN CASE
The Cougars’ success against divisional opponents has produced a weird fact. They can lose their next two games and still win the Pac-12 North by beating Washington in their regular-season finale at Pullman on Nov. 23.
That’s because Wazzu owns a two-game lead over Oregon and Stanford (both 3-3 in league) and a tie-breaking edge over both, based on head-tohead results. The Cougs downed the Ducks and the Cardinal in successive games last month.
Washington stands second in the North at 5-2 and has a bye this week. Even if the Huskies beat Oregon State on Nov. 17, they need to defeat the Cougars in the Apple Cup to win the tie-breaker and thus the title. If the Evergreen State teams both fall apart here in the stretch run, Oregon and Stanford still have shots at the crown.
Cougars players continue to draw attention for postseason awards. Quarterback Gardner Minshew is one of 16 semifinalists for the Davey O’Brien Award, given annually to the best quarterback in college football. Linebacker Peyton Pelluer, nominated for Comeback Player of the Year award, is one of three finalists, along with Cardon Johnson of James Madison University and Sam Shook of Ohio Northern University. And first-year Washington State defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys was nominated by Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant coaches in college football.
Handlers guide Ralphie, the Colorado Buffaloes mascot, in the first half of a game Aug. 31 in Denver.