With his team very much in the hunt for a Pac-12 championship, Leach isn't wavering on his longstanding belief college football would benefit from an expanded playoff system. Asked about teams like his that are playing their best football in November, but not likely to get a shot at a national championship, Leach has the answer.
“The best way to solve the problem is to have more teams in the playoffs," said the WSU head man. "That would be very easy to do. They ought to have a minimum of 16 and I think they ought to have 64…it would solve a lot of these problems.”
A key component to the success of a football team is roster depth. That factor was front and center in Wazzu's victory over Cal Saturday. Fourth-year junior linebacker Nate DeRider stepped up to fill the void created by Isaac Dotson, who left the game and didn't return. DeRider was in on several stops but no play was bigger than his interception in the end zone early in the contest. CF.C's Skyler Cracraft has repeatedly sung the praises of DeRider this season, dating back to fall camp. So CF.C asked Leach to describe DeRider's play.
"He played really well and he’s always played really hard," said Leach. "DeRider is a smart guy but the best thing is (he) always hustles. Every time you see DeRider he’s hustling. He ended up with an interception besides.”
On a closely linked matter, Leach was asked about replacing River Cracraft after his WSU career ended with a torn ACL against Cal.
“He’s really a good player, but we have other guys that can do a good job as well," explained Leach. "We’ll just play those guys.”
Wazzu's offensive line play has been key to the Cougar's eight game winning streak. Leach addressed a part of what has made the OL a more effective squad despite losing NFL'er Joe Dahl and stalwart Gunnar Eklund. Leach said it centers around Riley Sorenson's ability to call out line assignments pre snap.
“I think he’s a good communicator," said Leach. "He does a good job leading that aspect of the unit. He’s kind of stable that way. Over the season he’s elevated his play so he doesn’t have lapses. He’s the cornerstone of the O-line from the standpoint he communicates.”
WSU will travel to Colorado (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) this Saturday and face one of the most improved defensive units in the conference. CU coach Mike MacIntyre was asked what has contributed to the Buffs D stepping it up in 2016.
“Our D-line has played a lot of plays and they’re very stout and very good," said MacIntyre. "Our secondary can cover and we have athletic guys back there that have matured and played well.”
MacIntyre was quick to point out what he sees as the key matchups to prepare for against Washington State.
“Defensively they’re making a lot of plays," he said. "They cause a lot of havoc. We need to control their front a little bit. They’re playing really well up (front). On our defensive side of the ball, we need to keep them from making big plays. You always say that, but they throw it so well. (Luke) Falk does a great job of getting the ball to the right guys. Special teams-wise, we’ve got to hold our own there.”
CF.C asked MacIntyre what unique problems are created by Wazzu's Air Raid passing attack?
“To me, the most unique thing is Luke Falk," was MacIntyre's short answer. "Not only the way he throws it, which he’s very talented in how he knows where he’s going with the ball, but with the different checks he makes – he checks at least half the plays or makes a check to his receivers and gets them in a different route. Mike (Leach) has done a phenomenal job of teaching him and understanding the offense thoroughly.”
Phillip Lindsay, the No. 3 running back in the Pac-12 with 937-yards rushing, might be the best kept secret outside of Boulder. CF.C asked MacIntyre what makes Lindsay a special player.
“He is tenacious," said MacIntryre. "That’s his No. 1 quality. He’s quick. He’s athletic and all that. He’s not very big. He’s not the fastest all the time. He’s not the most explosive all the time. He gets every ounce of everything out of himself. He has that never-say-die attitude and he’s instilled that in our football team. We’re a big reflection of Phillip Lindsay.”
Cal coach Sonny Dykes reflected on his team's loss to WSU in Pullman last Saturday.
“I think they’re playing with a lot of confidence right now," Dykes said of the Cougar D. "They present some challenges for you just the way they move the front around. They’re not real big up front, but they’re real athletic. They’re playing very, very aggressive and dictating to offenses instead of letting offenses dictate to them.”
Dykes points to Wazzu's road victories as the telling factor in an eight game winning streak and contributing to playing their best football heading down the stretch.
“When you can do that it’s usually the last frontier of getting a football team turned around," said Dykes about the significance of winning on the road. "Being able to go on the road against a tough opponent and grind out a close ball game. That’s often the difference between having a good year and a bad year. You look at our team and we lost three grind-it-out ball games. We had opportunities to win at the end of the ball game and just couldn’t quite make enough plays down the stretch to win. So when you do that, your team gets great confidence as a result of that. Confidence is so important for a football team. It just sustains you through the season and those (Washington State) guys are playing with a lot of confidence right now.”