Leach wants WSU's road focus in Pullman

THERE HAS BEEN no shortage of news out of Washington State today with coach Mike Leach receiving a contract extension and multiple media outlets reporting that Utah quarterback Travis Wilson is out for the season because of concussion issues. Leach discussed those topics and much more during his Monday afternoon teleconference as the Cougars prepare to play at 12:30 p.m. Saturday against Utah.

As previously reported by CF.C, Leach's contract has been extended through the 2018 season. WSU (5-5 overall, 3-4 conference) has improved significantly from Leach's first season, when the Cougars won just three games.

"I'm excited about Washington State and Pullman," Leach said. "I'm excited about working for [athletic director Bill Moos]. This is a great school to work for."

Moos recently said during his weekly radio show earlier this month that he anticipated Leach's original contract would become a five-year rollover deal after a clause in it was enacted. But Leach said he has not looked into the specifics of his reworked deal.

He said that is because he is focused on the Utes (4-6, 1-6), who revealed Monday that Wilson, who completed 133 of 237 passes for 1,827 yards, 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, would not play again this season after a post-concussion testing revealed what a news released called a "pre-existing condition" that could end his career.

"I'm not a doctor and I wouldn't want to screw it up," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told the Salt Lake Tribune. "It's a head trauma, pre-existing. And I'm not even sure it's trauma, it could be genetic …."

Sophomore Adam Schulz, a former walk-on, is expected to start for Wilson. Schulz started this past week at Oregon and has completed 35 of 75 passes for 428 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions this season. Leach said he still needs to review game tape, but referred to Schulz as a "good, quality player."

Despite Utah's struggles, he described the Utes as a "quality" Pac-12 team.

"Very physical," Leach said. "I think they're characterized by how physical they are."

He was asked if that stems from Whittingham, who played at Brigham Young from 1978-81 and earned first-team all-Western Athletic Conference and WAC Defensive Player of the Year honors at linebacker.

"Kyle is a great overachiever," said Leach, who attended BYU during the same time frame as Whittingham.

SATURDAY'S HOME GAME will mark the final game for the Cougars' senior class at Martin Stadium. WSU has lost both of its previous two conference games, Oregon State and Arizona State, at Martin Stadium. Its other "home" Pac-12 contest was held at CenturyLink Field versus Stanford, also a loss.

"We have done a really good job of being focused on the road," said Leach, whose team is 3-1 in conference away games. "We need to do that whether it is at home or on the road."

The contest has significant postseason implications for both teams. The Utes must win their last two games to become bowl eligible, while a WSU loss would set it up for a make-or-break Apple Cup. Leach, who guided Texas Tech to bowl games each year from 2000-09, said the extra practices that come with playing in a bowl are "incredibly helpful."

"I've seen a lot of guys improve even from camp," he said.

Leach also would like to see the team's seniors — a group that survived a coaching change and never won more than four games in a season leading up to this year — rewarded.

"Instrumental for building the foundation for what we're building, which is going to be even better in the future," he said of the program's seniors.

Some players have said Leach's staff has instilled more discipline in the program since their arrival.

"We've got some guys who aren't here that didn't buy-in," he said. "They don't belong here. Mediocre people don't like high achievers. High achievers don't like mediocre people. At some point, you have to get rid of mediocre people and get high achievers. That's what we're doing here."

Leach said senior center Elliott Bosch, a former walk on who earned a scholie, is an example of that.

"He was always a hard worker and an overachiever," he said. "I think his progress — at least since we've known him — is really impressive."

Leach said spectators should be cautious about underestimating the ability of walk ons, such as Bosch and Schulz. He said he receives 200 inquiries about walking on each year and those that make it face "a tough road."

That also aptly could describe WSU's bowl prospects before the Cougars' 24-17 win Saturday at Arizona. WSU still needs to win its final two games to secure a bowl, though they will become eligible with a 6-6 record. In 2006, the Cougars did not earn a bowl berth after finishing 6-6. But Leach said any Pac-12 team that reaches that benchmark should play in a bowl.

• Leach was asked about the transition from the Bowl Championship Series to a four-game playoff beginning next year. "I have been in favor of it for over 15 years," he said. "I've been vocal on that."

• Leach thinks that once NCAA leadership will expand the playoffs once they see how successful they are. He favors a 64-team bracket even if that means reducing the number of games played during the regular season.

• One of Leach's mantras has been "taking what the defense gives us." He said that applied to junior quarterback Connor Halliday, who was credited for seven carries against the Wildcats. "It was by design by Arizona," Leach said. "It wasn't by design by us."

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