Leach has plenty of praise for defense

WHILE HIS BACKGROUND rests on the offensive side of the ball, Washington State coach Mike Leach focused on defense during his Monday afternoon teleconference. Leach also shared his thoughts on playing Idaho for the first time since 2007 when the Palouse neighbors meet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday (TV: Pac-12 Networks) at Martin Stadium, and much more.

Leach was particularly enthusiastic about his secondary, which intercepted Southern Utah quarterback Aaron Cantu three times during Saturday's 48-10 win at Martin Stadium. He praised cornerbacks Daquawn Brown and Damante Horton and senior safety Deone Bucannon. All three had interceptions.

But Leach also was impressed with sophomore safety Taylor Taliulu, who had seven tackles against the Thunderbirds. Taliulu won the starting job over senior Casey Locker during fall camp. Leach said defensive coordinator Mike Breske made the decision to start Taliulu.

"Taylor has steadily improved and played well," he said.

Leach also was excited about sophomore BUCK linebacker Kache Palacio, who made his first start of the season with classmate Destiny Vaeao sidelined with an undisclosed injury. Leach said Palacio, who had six tackles, including one for a loss, and had an interception return for a touchdown negated by a penalty, played well during the spring but a "slow" fall camp.

"Hopefully he's hit his stride and starts playing really well," he said.

THE COUGARS' OFFENSE had it's biggest point total of the Leach era against SUU, and Leach thought junior quarterback Connor Halliday, who completed 32 of 41 passes for 383 yards, five touchdowns and an interception, played well.

"I thought he made really good reads," he said. "I can only think of two I didn't like."

The net result has been a successful start for WSU (2-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-12). The Cougars also started last season with a 2-1 record, but Leach maintained there are no comparisons between the teams.

"I think we're playing better and we've played tougher opponents," Leach said. "The biggest thing this year is we work hard. We make the most of our opportunities to improve."

Some felt SUU might be a challenge for WSU coming off its dramatic 10-7 upset Sept. 7 at USC. The "looking past" factor could also be in play Saturday as Idaho (0-3) has been outscored 127-51 so far this season. But Leach does not think it will be an issue.

"I think we've done a pretty good job of maintaining that focus," he said. "I think they're more fully invested. When you're really committed to something, I think what you achieve is more meaningful."

Leach also feels the Vandals are better than their record indicates. He noted that some expect Northern Illinois, which defeated Idaho 45-35 last week, to win the Mid-American Conference.

"I think they've definitely improved," Leach said. "(Idaho was) in the game the whole time and probably should've won the game."

He said his team also will have to be aware of freshman quarterback Chad Chalich, who has completed 56 of 85 passes for 652 yards and three touchdowns this season.

"I think he's a pretty good player," Leach said. "He throws it pretty well and has good feet."

Despite that, Idaho some expect Chalich to share time with junior Joshua McCain moving forward. Leach split the job last season between Halliday and Jeff Tuel, but he said it is not his preference.

"I think you put your reps in a guy and develop him," he said.

Leach said he does not know Idaho coach Paul Petrino well, but has coached against his brother, Bobby, on multiple occasions. While their offensive philosophies differ – Leach noted that Paul Petrino likes play-action and using more underneath routes – he respects what both bring to the table.

"They come from a coaching family and I think they're good football coaches," Leach said. "I just think they're smart, dedicated people."


  • While some might like to see WSU face Idaho on a regular basis, as was the case from 1998 to 2007, Leach said he does not care "one way or another."

  • California (1-2) is the only Pac-12 program with a losing record through three weeks. Leach anticipates plenty of close games as the schools enter conference play during the coming weeks. "I think it's a conference that from top to bottom, there's a lot of teams that are really good," he said.

  • There was a highly publicized fight between several Idaho and Cougars players in March that ended the career of WSU wide receiver Mansel Simmons. Leach was asked if he was concerned that tension between the teams might cause problems Saturday. "I don't worry about that at all," he said.

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