Leach shifts focus to WSU’s next opponent

Cougars will travel to Salt Lake City for a matchup with Utah


ABBY LINNENKOHL | The Daily Evergreen

Head Coach Mike Leach points to the jumbo Tron playing footage of a call and argues with a referee during the Dad’s Weekend game against Stanford.

BRADEN JOHNSON, Evergreen reporter

Aside from the whipping winds and the snow-slush mixture that accumulated on the Martin Stadium turf in last Saturday’s win over No. 21 Stanford, WSU Head Coach Mike Leach is anticipating a similar narrative when the Cougars take on the University of Utah on Saturday.

The Utes (5-4, 2-4) have dropped four of their last five ballgames after starting the season 4-0 and being ranked in the Associated Press top-25 rankings in October, yet Leach indicated in his weekly news conference at the Cougar Football Complex on Monday that he expects Utah to present a similar challenge as the Cardinal.

“They’re a very physical team,” he said of Utah. “They’re very similar to the team we just played. Good running back, quarterback runs around a bit. It’ll be a very physical game, I suspect.”

Leach attributed the Utes’ recent skid, which they stopped with a 48-17 win over University of California, Los Angeles, on Friday in Salt Lake City, to the parity across the Pac-12.

Utah ranks in the top-third of the Pac-12 in both rushing and passing defense, but saw its offense struggle during its four-game losing streak after sophomore quarterback Tyler Huntley suffered an injury in its win over Arizona on Sept. 22.

Under Head Coach Kyle Whittingham, Utah employs a similar strategy on both sides of the ball as the one Stanford used in Saturday’s contest, favoring a run-first offensive approach and relying on a tall and physical front seven defensively.

Whittingham, the longest tenured head coach in the Pac-12, played linebacker for Brigham Young University from 1978-1981 at the same time Leach was a student there. Leach said he still maintains some semblance of a relationship with Whittingham.

“If I see him, I talk with him,” he said. “We have a certain amount in common, because it’s more like my wife and his wife were all in college at the same time and we know a lot of people in common. So there’s kind of that natural dialogue.”

WSU pulled off a 28-27 win over the Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium in the most recent meeting between the two schools in 2014. When prompted with the notion that his players view Salt Lake City as one of the tougher venues to play at in the conference, Leach was non-committal on the idea.

“I don’t know if it’s such a tough environment,” he said. “It’s a really nice stadium. The only thing that I can see that makes it a tough place to play is that it’s loud. I view it as the second-loudest place in the conference after Oregon.”

No. 19 WSU will take on Utah at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Salt Lake City.