WASHINGTON STATE COACHES long have been asked about their philosophy when it comes to preparing for the Apple Cup. Mike Price liked to hype the contest, regaling in stories about the game and reading his players jokes about the University of Washington. His successor, Bill Doba, preferred a more subdued approach. Coach Mike Leach discussed his approach to the game during his Sunday teleconference.
Leach said he understands the game, which is set for 12:30 p.m. Friday (Fox), is different, but also does not want it to become a distraction for his players. He said the most important aspect is to have a strong week of practice.
“I think they already are motivated,” Leach said. “We just have to worry about what we can do instead of trying to do too much.”
He said that was the Cougars’ biggest obstacle during Saturday’s 46-7 loss at Arizona State.
“I think we had good effort, but it was frantic like over pursuing,” Leach said. “Fighter pilots always say you want to be one inch out of control. We were about six inches.”
Leach, who still is seeking his first Pac-12 win, said the Apple Cup is a popular topic around campus. The Huskies (7-4 overall, 5-3 conference) have three consecutive wins in the series, their longest streak since their six consecutive victories from 1998 to 2003.
A win for WSU (2-9, 0-8) could be a “springboard” into the offseason, Leach said, but he believes the result will have little impact on recruiting.
“I don’t think they typically isolate it into one thing,” he said. “If they’re doing that, they’re doing it for the wrong reason. The majority of guys we’re on research it. They want to be a part of turning things around here.”
One of those player who could be competing in the Apple Cup for a final time is quarterback Jeff Tuel. The NCAA is reviewing his application for a fifth season of eligibility, but even if it is approved Tuel said he has not made a decision about whether he wants to play in 2013 for the Cougars. Tuel completed just 8 of 16 passes for 67 yards and an interception against the Sun Devils before he was replaced by sophomore Connor Halliday during the first half. Halliday completed 13 of 33 passes for 173 yards, one touchdown and a interception.
“One of his best qualities is he tries to make a lot happen,” said Leach, referring to Halliday. “One of his worst qualities is he tries to make a lot happen.”
He said he has not determined whether Tuel or Halliday will start against UW.
“They both have done some good things and both have a level of inconsistency,” Leach said. “Some of that is probably my fault.”
Despite the Cougars’ struggles this season, Leach said he believes the program’s foundation is stronger than the team’s record suggests. He again noted that 15 freshmen have played this season.
“I think they’re getting better all of the time,” Leach said. “I think they’ve been courageous throughout the season with what they’ve done. If there’s an inconsistency there, it comes with the youth.”
The timing of the Apple Cup, which falls one day after Thanksgiving, does not concern Leach.
“The game is sold out, so I think there will be plenty of excitement,” he said.
Leach said WSU will treat Wednesday as Thanksgiving with a team dinner. The Cougars will practice Thursday in Lewiston, Idaho. He said the shuffle is nothing new to him as he routinely had to open Christmas presents three days early because he always was traveling for a bowl game during his 10 years at Texas Tech.
That does not mean Leach does not have some Thanksgiving staples when he is around. He said his wife is a good cook, but he always handles one part of dinner preparation – the gravy.
“I put a lot of stuff into it,” Leach said. “Once you understand the fact that you can’t screw up gravy, the pressure is off. I always put tiger sauce in mine.”
The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported that linebackers coach Jeff Choate was scheduled to interview today to replace Robb Akey as Idaho’s coach. Former WSU quarterback Jason Gesser has filled the role on an interim basis. Leach said he had no “first-hand knowledge” of Choate interviewing for the position, but feels the Idaho native would be a good fit for the job.
“I think he’s just passionate football,” he said. “He’s a good, sharp coach.”
Both Leach and UW coach Steve Sarkisian attended Brigham Young, albeit more than a decade apart. Despite that connection, Leach said he does not know Sarkisian well.
“He’s a nice guy,” Leach said. “I’ve always liked him.”