WSU NOTES: On the ground at New Mexico Bowl

ALBUQUERQUE – The Washington State Cougars haven't thrown a pass, made a tackle or kicked a ball in Saturday's New Mexico Bowl, their first bowl game in 10 years. But Mike Leach is already looking forward to a long run of bowl games for the Cougars.

"We need to establish this as a tradition. This needs to be annual," Mike Leach said Wednesday afternoon following the Cougars' first practice in Albuquerque.

The Cougars flew into town on Tuesday after a morning practice in Pullman. WSU (6-6) take on Colorado State (7-6) on Saturday in the eighth annual New Mexico Bowl. ESPN televises the game – the first bowl game of the year – at 11 a.m. PST (noon local).

Leach said "you always worry" about your team gathering rust after the layoff before a bowl. Almost three weeks have passed since WSU's last game, a Nov. 29 loss at Washington.

"I don't know if there's any magic to it (avoiding rust)," Leach said. "The biggest thing is just consistent focus. Just constantly look at how your fundamental play is and your focus.

"We constantly emphasize that. As we matured as a team – we still have a long ways to go – you're getting a little bit more push out of players to do that. They emphasize it among themselves, and I think that's where you make the most progress."

LEACH GUIDED Texas Tech to a bowl game every season during his 10-year run as head coach in Lubbock. He's aware that some teams unaccustomed to bowl trips lose some intensity once the game arrives, but he believes the Cougars will avoid that fate.

"I hope not. I don't think so," he said. "We've done a lot to emphasize to the contrary, but it does cross your mind. I mean, there are those out there that think, ‘Well, it's a reward for a great season. Our work's done here, so now let's enjoy ourselves.'

"I've never viewed it that way."

LEACH SAID he has long been impressed with Albuquerque ("It's a great city"). He said the practice field, locker rooms and proximity to the team hotel are "real good."

"They do a great job with this bowl," Leach said. "We're excited to be here."


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WSU's practices in Albuquerque are closed to the media and fans, but can be easily observed from vantage points outside the small stadium.

WSU sports information department representatives permitted media members to watch early and late parts of practice. They asked that nothing be reported on the action, or even to disclose the name of the stadium where practices are being held. Position meetings were held in the morning at the team hotel.

The Cougars practiced a bit more than two hours under partly sunny skies. The high temperature Wednesday was 53. Similar weather conditions are forecast through the weekend, though Saturday's projected high is only 45.

Leach expressed delight that senior safety Deone Bucannon was named an Associated Press first-team All-American.

"We're excited he got the honor," Leach said. "We view it as a team award … he has a whole bunch of teammates to thank for some of the success he's had."

Leach added, "The thing I like the most about Bucannon is, he feels the same way about it that I do."

The Cougars attend dinners with Colorado State on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and the teams go to a luncheon Friday. Former NFL and Notre Dame star Joe Theismann is the featured speaker at the luncheon.

The only media access to WSU players prior to the game comes before the luncheon, when Bucannon and senior center Elliott Bosch are scheduled to meet with the press.

"Continent" is the nickname Leach has bestowed on freshman offensive lineman Cody O'Connell, who checks in at something like 6 feet, 8 inches and 345 pounds.

"Continents are big," Leach explained, "and he's the largest. He's not Australia or Antarctica."

Mike Breske, Washington State's defensive coordinator, said he's preparing the Cougars for some trickery if the Rams drive into the WSU red zone (inside the 20-yard line) and/or gold zone (inside the 5-yard line.)

"CSU gets in a lot of funky stuff," Breske said. "A lot of reverses, reverse passes. Try to create some confusion down there."

The Rams feature a balanced offense that is spearheaded by quarterback Garrett Grayson and running back Kapri Bibbs.

"Their quarterback has really improved from game one," Breske said. "He's become a much better game manager."

Breske said a big, veteran offensive line – "The strength of their offense" – opens up holes for Bibbs.

"He's real quick on his feet," Breske said. "Real nifty. Doesn't need a big hole. Looks for the holes. A fairly good cut-back guy."

Breske and Colorado State co-defensive coordinator Marty English coached together for 19 years at Northern Colorado and Wyoming. They remain friends.

"Small world," Breske said with a smile. "Our kids grew up together."

Leach's contract calls for him to receive a $75,000 bonus for guiding the Cougars to a non-Bowl Championship Series bowl. He already makes $2.25 million a year.

WSU assistant coaches earn bowl bonuses equal to one-12th of their annual salary. This year, those bonuses range from $13,042 for outside linebackers coach Paul Volero (who makes $156,500) to $27,208 for Breske (who makes $326,500).

Colorado State's media guide lists Dan Grayson, the uncle of Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson, as a former WSU All-America linebacker. Naturally, some media have reported as much.

However, Cougars records only show Grayson earning first-team all-conference honors as a senior in 1989.

The younger Grayson, who attended Heritage High in Vancouver, Wash., was recruited by WSU (though not offered according to scout.com) and some other schools as a safety.

Grayson wanted to play quarterback, however, and he has long credited WSU's previous coaching staff with helping connect him with Colorado State.

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