Cougs must match Stanford toughness, Mike Leach says

MAKE NO MISTAKE about it, says Mike Leach. When the Cougs take on Stanford Saturday night, the defense is going to have its work cut out for them and the big boys up front are beasts, Leach said on the radio Thursday night. And so it’s going to be up to the Cougar defensive linemen to play with some nastiness to prevent the Stanford 'backs, led by Christian McCaffrey, from blowing up.

Play fast and play physical.

Sounds a bit cliché doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what the Cougars are going to have do at 7:30 p.m. at Martin Stadium when they host the No. 8 Cardinal at Martin Stadium.

Thus far on the season, Stanford has rushed for 1,548 yards and 18 touchdowns. Their running game is of course led by stud back Christian McCaffrey, who has rushed for 953 yards and six touchdowns.

That success on the ground is thanks in large part to the Stanford offensive lineman, who look like grown men out on the field, Leach said.

“It’s like World War I with them,” Leach quipped. “Everyone has to get locked in the trenches and get close together. A certain amount of the time, they play with seven offensive lineman out there.

“When they do that, it’s a jumbo package. They put extra weight out there. The back is fast, but you’re not threatened by the speed of the group, you look at what they have up front. We’ll have to pack more weight on the line of scrimmage to try and counter that. It’s a combination of matching size so you don’t get driven off and quickness to shoot the gaps. You have to sort it out with the space you’re dealing with.”

WITH STANFORD’S BIG BODIES up front, it’s no secret that the defensive lineman will be looked at to plug the holes up.

Leach said he expect’s Joe Salave’a unit to be ready to go and attack the challenge head on.

“We’ve got some bodies out there and the young guys have really emerged and done some good things,” Leach said. “The thing is that we’re getting more depth gradually as it goes. They play inspired and they play hard. I think they’re our most inspiring unit of the defense. That’s what other positions draw from.”

Speaking of Salave’a, a question was fired off to radio host Matt Chazanow about a bobblehead being made of the former NFL defensive lineman. As you might expect, Leach gave one heck of an answer.

“You know I was surprised myself when I saw there was a bobblehead of me out there,” Leach said. “They made me pretty potbellied on that one. For Joe, they’re going to need a special mold.

“You need big hands, broad shoulders. Man, that’d be a good one. I’d want a Joe Salave’a one. I have a Billy Martin one. Some people are pretty into them and I’m sure they’re fun. Joe’s would be particularly fun.”

BACK ON THE GRIDIRON, it’s been business as usual for the Cougars during practice this week. WSU is riding a three-game Pac-12 winning streak and are starting to receive plenty of love from local and national media with its 5-2 record.

That’s something that the team isn’t paying much attention to, though.

“It’s pretty critical that we ignore all of that,” Leach said of the attention.  “We have to focus on our job and on what we do best. The coverage is great, but we’re not the ones that need to be included and paying attention and handicapping things.

“We have to focus on our plays. We’ve got to focus on what we do together. We have the opportunity to play like a team that people can be proud of.  If we get lost on the attention, we’ll get distracted and that will only diminish our overall effort." 

One focus Leach and his staff have had this week in particular in Stanford’s defense, which is led by standout linebacker Blake Martinez. Martinez leads the Cardinal with 80 tackles on the season.

“They’re big and physical, obviously,” Leach said. “What everyone says is true. They have a certain patience to their game. There’ a maturity and a patience about them. You don’t seem them panic if something doesn’t go their way.

“It seems like everyone for them is a fifth-year guy, too. Everyone’s a redshirt senior, the back-ups are redshirt seniors. You don’t play for these guys until you’re a senior. Some of these cats, man, we don’t have guys who are old enough to play for Stanford just yet.”

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