San Diego — The focus for Michigan State’s defense heading into Thursday’s Holiday Bowl is containing Washington State quarterback Luke Falk.
It’s hardly a simple task considering the senior has thrown for 3,593 yards and 30 touchdowns this season while becoming the Cougars’ career leader in passing yards, touchdown passes and total offensive yards.
But there seemed to be an opening developing for Michigan State this week when Falk was pictured wearing a small cast on his left, non-throwing hand.
Washington State coach Mike Leach shut it down in his own way on Wednesday.
“He’s doing great,” Leach said. “You can use your imagination all you want about the cast. He has had something on his hand all year, and hence we named him the Kingslayer. Beyond that you’re on your own.”
Leach and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio took part in Wednesday’s final press conference in preparation for Thursday’s 9 p.m. kickoff at SDCCU Stadium.
He was later asked what Falk had meant to the program, as a fifth-year senior who came to Washington State as a walk-on.
“Besides his work ethic as a walk-on to become the — I mean, he’s top of the heap in the Pac-12 as far as yards, touchdowns, all those things,” Leach said. “I think it started with just his incredible work ethic to become a starting quarterback at our place. Then I think as that happened, then a lot of just sorta the standard of how hard you work, how you treat an off-season, how you treat practices I think rubbed off on our other players that we had to play early.
“We had a lot of guys that had to play as freshmen in that class because we were a very thin group, and I think he kinda led the charge on that and has been very instrumental to our team in a lot of ways, a lot of them intangible but very important for building a program.”
Leach also had good things to say about Michigan State sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke.
“He’s an explosive guy,” Leach said. “He can move his feet some. He’s got a pretty good arm. The other thing, he gets hot. There are times when he gets streaks where he gets pretty hot, you know, and I think that he’s a very good player. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in that league. He’s definitely a key on offense.”
To say Leach and Dantonio are different personalities is an understatement. That was displayed on Wednesday when Leach was asked about the pet raccoon he once had named Bilbo Baggins. Leach wrote about it in a piece for the Players Tribune titled, “Five thoughts that have nothing to do with football.”
Leach was asked if he’d like another pet raccoon.
“Yeah, I did have a pet raccoon,” Leach said. “I would like to have a pet raccoon again. It’s tough if you travel. They’re quite a bit more maintenance-free than you would think. They do like shiny objects. Yeah, I kinda would like to have a pet raccoon again, but, you know, bouncing around the country it makes it tough.
“Then, you know, there’s the time when they, you know, they hit kinda raccoon teenage years and it’s time for them to head off into the sunset. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun, and in some ways every bit as maintenance-free as a dog or a cat, you know?”
So, a typical football press conference.
Toward the end of Dantonio’s portion, the Michigan State coach wondered where his non-football question was.
“Is it a raccoon question?” Dantonio asked. “I trapped one once.”
No Holiday hangover
Washington State is playing in the Holiday Bowl for the second straight season after losing, 17-12, to Minnesota in 2016. Leach doesn’t think that game has any impact on this one.
“I think they’re always motivated, but they’re two separate games, two separate teams,” Leach said. “So, I don’t think that has anything to do with it.”