Lunch w/ Leach: You have sick people, right?

SPOKANE -- It’s enough to make a Cougar football fan look forward to a bye week. Washington State football coach Mike Leach makes it a point to attend the Spokane Cougar Club luncheon whenever his team has a bye week. Lunch with Leach can be highly informative, and Monday's session with the fourth-year head man illustrated why.

He talked about the dramatic difference between the Cougar defense's first- and second-half performances in Saturday's 31-14 win over Wyoming.

“I think we settled in,” he said of the second-half effort. “I think in the first half we had some guys trying to do too much. I think we finally settled in and we stayed home.”

In the highlight package the coach brought for the show-and-tell portion of the lunch, Leach singled out linebackers Peyton Pelluer and Kache Palacio for their work against the Cowboys. Pelluer led the Cougars with 14 total tackles, including three for loss, while Palacio posted seven stops, with two sacks and another tackle for loss.

Leach also said he was pleased with the play of safety Shalom Luani, offering several highlights featuring the junior-college transfer – including one where he broke on a pass play and made a strong open-field tackle.

“Shalom had a good camp,” Leach said. “But I think he has been a little tentative while he settles in. I think this was his first game where he wasn’t tentative.”

Luani racked up 11 total tackles, forced a fumble and had one pass breakup against Wyoming.

Linebacker Jeremiah Allison also drew praise for his key fourth-quarter interception -- though the senior's long return didn't excite Leach.

“Jeremiah is explosive, but stiff,” Leach quipped.

“Jeremiah is the one guy where half the team is yelling for him to score and the other half is yelling for him to run out of bounds.”

Second-year freshman defensive end Hercules Mata’afa of Lahiana, Hawaii, was singled out for his hustle on a fumble recovery back in the secondary. Luani made a stellar tackle to knock the ball loose while Mata'afa covered 20 yards at a sprint and pounced on the loose ball.

“You know, if you had a vote to see which of these guys would be most likely to recover that fumble, Hercules would have finished no higher than ninth,” the coach observed.

On the offensive side of the ball, Leach saluted senior receiver Dom Williams' head-turning, one-armed catch for a TD.

“We need to throw the ball to Dom over the top like this,” Leach said. “He’s really good at catching these.”

Leach also singled out a big running play from Keith Harrington – as much for the run by Harrington as for a crushing block by Jamal Morrow. The coach was asked about a penalty on the play and broke into a grin.

“The horse collar you mean?” he joked. “Or the facemask? I’ve learned that it costs $10,000 to comment on that.”

Leach said he had no plans to do anything different as the Cougars prepare for their Oct. 3 Pac-12 opener at Cal. The Bears beat Texas in Austin, 45-44, this past Saturday and will to Washington this Saturday.

“I believe in doing your absolute best every day,” Leach said. “We try to do our best every day in practice. I don’t think you can achieve your best if you keep changing the standard all the time, so we try to just have one standard every day.”

Cal quarterback Jared Goff set the school record for career passing yards in the win over the Longhorns, surpassing the mark set by Troy Taylor a quarter-century ago.

“He gets better and better,” Leach said of Goff, whom the coach recruited in high school. “I thought he was the best in the league last year. He keeps finding open guys, usually underneath on short passes.”

A Cougar Club member thanked Leach for the way the entire football team attended the memorial service last month for Dr. Elson S. Floyd, the late president of WSU.

“All of these kids knew Dr. Floyd,” Leach said. “Some of them knew him to the point that they would go to his home.”

Leach called Floyd “the finest university president I have ever worked for,” and said that Floyd and his vision for the school was the reason he was at Washington State.

“You see that with the new medical school here (in Spokane),” Leach said. “I know there was some petty opposition to it, and I don’t understand that. How can you be against a new medical school? You have sick people, right?”

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