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Predictions: Washington State’s potent passing attack no laughing matter, but Utes should prevail

Washington State coach Mike Leach, left, and Utah coach Kyle Whittingham share a laugh before the start of game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP

PROVO — Mike Leach is coming to town and that means anything can happen and anything could be said.

It’s why I love college football and watching a guy like Leach coach. Washington State’s “Air Raid” offense is, well, a little insane.

Leach and Washington State invade Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday night to take on the favored Utes. He will bring with him the most dangerous passing attack in college football.

“It doesn’t matter who the quarterback is, it seems,” said Utah’s Kyle Whittingham. “They lead the nation in passing.”

Last Saturday in Pullman, Washington, lowly UCLA absorbed nine touchdown passes from WSU’s quarterback Anthony Gordon. And WSU lost.

Last week, USC’s third-string QB Matt Fink torched Utah’s secondary by lobbing jump balls to Trojan receivers. Gordon is far more polished as a passer.

Consider these WSU stats: No. 2 in total offense with 605.3 yards per game; No. 2 in yards per play at 8.82; No. 15 in scoring margin (+24); and No. 1 in passing touchdowns with 5.75 per game.

Here is the scary one: WSU ranks No. 13 in red-zone points per attempt, while Utah ranks 97th.

Utah running back Zack Moss is doubtful for the game, and quarterback Tyler Huntley is rumored to be nursing an injury. Whittingham has traditionally avoided talking about his injuries.

Leach has a quote for everything, and some of it has to do with football.

Once asked about his QB Connor Halliday’s status he replied:

“Any stuff on that is so closely guarded. I don’t know if you saw Harry Potter, but in the basement of this building, it’s guarded by serpents and wild dogs and things like that, and you can go try to find the secret to that, but chances of survival ... always a risk. Heck, it took until movie five before he got it done himself, and he had magic powers. Anyway, (QB Connor Halliday) is doing just fine.”

Leach is unashamed about attempting 50 or 60 passes in a game. The mantra that you have to keep it balanced is sacrilege to him.

“There’s nothing balanced about the 50% run, 50% pass because that’s 50% stupid,” Leach once told reporters. “When you have five skill positions, if all five of them are contributing to the offensive effort, then that’s balanced. But this notion that if you hand it to one guy 50% of the time and you throw it to a combination of two guys 50%, then you’re really balanced and you proudly pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that, well then you’re delusional.”

Come Saturday, the Ute defense should pressure and chase Gordon and definitely will squeeze WSU’s tiny rush threat.

But it is the strike force rhythm of the pass that could get Utah in trouble. If Utah has to chase points and it gets in the 40s, WSU will be operating in its comfort zone. If it comes down to red-zone scoring, the Cougars will win.

But these days, it is becoming so unpredictable what millennial kids will do. Look no further than lowly UCLA’s upset of WSU and USC knocking off Utah in the Coliseum.

Leach even has a quote about what players do walking around on campus these days as big games loom and careers of coaches are on the line.

“Well, I’ve seen them doing that for the last 10 years, but nobody talks to people anymore,” said Leach. “I mean, there’s people that won’t even talk face to face. They’ll go across the room and text each other. I think it’s actually kind of disturbing. I think the days before cellphones, when it was dirt clod wars at construction sites, was a lot more wholesome and productive, to be perfectly honest.”