Leach: Tuel would start if opener were today

IT WAS A reflection session. With Washington State opening its season at 7:15 p.m. Thursday (TV: ESPN) at Brigham Young, coach Mike Leach's alma mater, he fielded questions ranging from meeting his wife to the impact legendary coach Lavell Edwards made on him during his time in Provo, Utah. Leach also discussed the quarterback situation and much more during his Saturday teleconference.

While Leach did not officially name a starting quarterback, he is leaning heavily toward senior Jeff Tuel.

"If we were to play today, Jeff would be the starter," Leach said. "He's had a really good camp."

While other programs, such as Arizona, slowly are installing offenses under new coaching staffs, Leach said the Cougars do not face the same challenge. He repeatedly has said the formations in the Air Raid offense are simple.

"I thought it went efficiently," he said. "Some of our guys stepped up in a quicker fashion than expected."

Leach did not play football at BYU, but said that is where the root of his offense developed. As a student there in the early 1980s, Leach watched several of Edwards' practices. He shares Edwards' philosophy of "attacking the whole field" through the passing game.

"He's easily one of the greatest coaches," he said. "I think that's indisputable. I know him a little, but I would like to know him a lot better. There's a lot of wisdom you would like to draw from. He never overreacted and didn't panic. He had faith in his system. I'm not the only person Lavell Edwards influenced on throwing the football.

"Offensively, we may look more like BYU than BYU if you reflect on the Lavell Edwards days."

Leach also met his wife, Sharon, there as both resided in the King Henry Apartments. They were introduced when Leach's roommates married one of her friends. Leach said the two became friends and he often would hang out at her apartment. Perhaps the biggest dispute was which one controlled the TV remote.

"They would be watching M*A*S*H and I would change the channel to Gunsmoke," Leach said. "Can you imagine watching M*A*S*H or Saturday Night Live when Gunsmoke is on? It's almost sacrilegious."

But Leach said any reminiscing will end when the team arrives in Provo. He said he does not have much time to do any sightseeing, which is fine because he has been back many times since he graduated.

"I have great memories there," Leach said. "I met my wife there, and it's a great spot. But once the game starts, your attention is kind of confined to the field."

On that end, Leach expects a challenge from BYU, which is about a two-touchdown favorite. Leach said BYU, an independent that finished with a 10-3 record last year, is strong in all aspects of the game.

"They're a team that has a tradition of winning for several decades," he said. "They're not trying to reinvent the wheel. They're doing the same stuff they've been doing for decades."

In particular, Leach said the defense will have to be prepared for dual-threat quarterback Riley Nelson, who completed 116 of 202 passes for 1,717 yards, 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions last year. He also added 392 yards on 88 carries. His 4.5 yards per carry average is impressive considering sacks are counted against a quarterback's rushing total.

"He moves his feet pretty good and gets out of the pocket," Leach said. "You always worry about explosives and big plays. We want to get turnovers and put pressure on the quarterback."

ON THAT NOTE, Leach was asked how WSU compares with his first Texas Tech team in 2000 and how prepared his team is in general.

"I've been asking myself that for over a month," he said. "I think we're pretty capable and we have a cohesive staff. I don't know where we're at. There's only one practice that I can think of that really ticked me off. I'm curious myself. "We've just got to play consistently."

One unit that has impressed Leach is the progression of the offensive line, which several preseason magazines tabbed as one of -- if not -- the worst in the Pac-12.

"Of all of the groups on our team, that's the one I think that has improved the most," he said. "We have a lot of young unsung guys that I didn't know would be in the mix."

Leach has not released a depth chart -- he said that would occur late Saturday -- but added that former walk-on Elliott Bosch has been impressive at center. He also lauded the development of Mount Si High School graduate Zach Brevick, a junior, and redshirt freshman Gunnar Eklund from Lake Stevens. Jake Rodgers, a redshirt sophomore from Shadle Park, has made strides in his transition from tackle to guard.

Clay McGuire, who played and coached with Leach at Texas Tech, is the offensive line coach. Leach said McGuire is suited for that role because he is "level-headed" and quickly makes adjustments.

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • Tuel being named an offensive captain hardly is a surprise.

    "He's a really good leader and does a really good job," Leach said. "I think the team responds to him. I think they know how dedicated he is and how hard he works."

    Other captains include wide receiver Andrei Lintz, defensive end Travis Long, safety Deone Bucannon and kicker Andrew Furney. All were elected by their teammates. Kickers sometimes are not respected in the locker room because of their limited role, but Leach said Furney is an exception.

    "You kind of have to meet this guy," Leach said. "He's a very engaging individual. He probably ought to coach. There's quite a bit more dimension to his mentality and his impact on the team than you would expect from a kicker."

  • Similar to Washington coach Steve Sarkisian in 2009, Leach will debut at his new program against his alma mater. While Leach said he likes Sarkisian, who played quarterback under Edwards in the 1990s, but he won't call his rival to discuss the game.

    "Steve's a great guy and I enjoy talking with him, but we traditionally don't share football secrets," he said.

  • Leach did not list a specific number of true freshmen who will play against BYU, but it will be more than fans were accustomed to during former coach Paul Wulff's four-year tenure.

    "I think by some accounts, an alarming number," he said, when asked how many will play. "We don't have some automatic redshirt policy. If you're in the two deeps, you're going to play."

  • While Leach respects BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, he said he has no interest in watching any more of his team's game tape or discussing Xs and Os with him.

    "We're not interested in seeing blue Cougars; we're only interested in seeing red Cougars," he said.

    Instead, Leach would prefer to talk about another subject with Mendenhall.

    "Probably one of the more interesting thing about Bronco is he's a really good surfer," he said.

  • When Leach was asked about his ideal nonconference schedule, he quipped that it would include games "all at home."

    "You want the schedule that best prepares you for your conference because that's what counts," he said.

  • WSU teleconferences typically draw few media members, most dial-in, which led Leach to joke that others were missing out.

    "I think the band's going to play here a little later on," he said, laughing.


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