LOS ANGELES — The best show at Pac-12 media days for six years running has been Washington State coach Mike Leach’s news conference.
Among this year’s highlights were Leach’s introduction of Cougars linebacker Peyton Pelluer and his “samurai hairdo,” a sharp rebuke of the lack of uniformity in scheduling among Power 5 conferences, his thoughts on dealing with millennials. Then there was the closing monologue on how every other level of college football can hold a tournament featuring up to 32 teams while the FBS playoff is limited to four.
Leach even got to weigh in on whether a hot dog is a sandwich.
“I never liked hot dogs when I was a kid, and I think that some of that started with when I was a real young kid. I’d have bologna sandwich after bologna sandwich. So anything that even remotely resembled bologna, I hated. Everybody says go to the ballgame and eat a hot dog. Not me,” he said. “No, it’s not a sandwich.”
When the conversation finally got around to Washington State football, the run game usually overshadowed in Leach’s pass-heavy spread offense was singled out for praise.
Washington State rushed for 120 yards per game last season, and the Cougars had 23 rushing touchdowns after scoring only eight on the ground in 2015. Running backs Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks combined for 1,634 yards rushing and 22 touchdowns. They also added 125 receptions for 1,014 yards and seven touchdowns.
“If you add up the yards, we had the most productive backs in the league. I think it went us, Oregon, Stanford. That’s good company right there,” Leach said.
Paired with the most prolific passing offense in the Pac-12, that balance — at least by the relative standards of Leach’s Air Raid system — was enough to elevate Washington State to a 7-2 conference record and raise the stakes for the Apple Cup against rival Washington to where the Pac-12 North and a berth in the conference title game were at stake for both teams.
Morrow, Williams and Wicks are all back this season and will get to run behind a veteran offensive line anchored by guard Cody O’Connell.
But Morrow said the secret to the ground game’s success is senior quarterback Luke Falk.
Falk will check between a run or pass play at the line of scrimmage depending on which matchup is most favorable. If the opponent doesn’t put enough defenders near the line of scrimmage to stop the run, Falk will hand the ball off.
Despite being on pace to break Pac-12 records for career yards passing and touchdown passes this season, Morrow said Falk is completely unselfish in letting his running backs take over a game.
“It’s all on Luke,” Morrow said. “If we have to run the ball, you know, 30-40 times a game because they are giving us run box, he’ll do it.”
While Morrow was happy to talk about the offense, he was also asked plenty of questions about his occasionally peculiar head coach.
So too was Pelluer.
“During practice, special teams period when he is not doing anything, he’ll just wander through drills, like active drills that are going on,” Pelluer said. “The best is when we’re watching on film the next day, ‘Oh, there’s Coach Leach just walking through a drill.’ He just doesn’t care.”
Whether the setting is Hollywood or Pullman, it turns out Leach can’t help but be the center of attention.