By BERNIE WILSON, AP Sports Writer
SAN DIEGO (AP) — The first question for Washington State coach Mike Leach during Wednesday’s pre-Holiday Bowl news conference was about the cast on quarterback Luke Falk’s non-throwing left wrist.
The seventh question was about the pet raccoon Leach had when he was a kid, which he mentioned in an article he wrote for the Players’ Tribune.
Naturally, Leach was much more forthcoming about the raccoon, which was named Bilbo Baggins after the character in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” than he was about his quarterback’s health.
“He’s doing great. You can use your imagination all you want about the cast,” Leach said about Falk, who despite whatever’s going on with his wrist is still expected to lead No. 21 WSU (9-3) against No. 18 Michigan State (9-3) on Thursday night. “He has had something on his hand all year and hence we named him ‘the Kingslayer.’ Beyond that you’re on your own.”
Falk and the Cougars are looking for a better Holiday Bowl than a year ago, when their normally high-powered Air Raid offense was shut down by Minnesota in a 17-12 dud.
Here are some things to look for in the 40th Holiday Bowl:
The Washington State senior quarterback, who threw for 3,593 yards and 30 touchdowns, was photographed Tuesday with a cast on his non-throwing left wrist. During an appearance later that day, Falk was careful to keep the wrist out of view. In last year’s Holiday Bowl, Falk was held to 264 yards — 86 below his average — on 30-of-51 passing. Falk didn’t crack 200 yards until the final minutes.
Leach praised Falk’s work ethic, saying the former walk-on “has had a tremendous impact on our program.”
“I don’t remember when I did that article, but, yeah, I did have a pet raccoon,” Leach said. “Yeah, I kind of 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 kind of raccoon teenage years and it’s time for them to head off into the sunset. It was a lot of fun, and in some ways every bit as maintenance free as a dog or a cat, you know?”
Toward the end of Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio’s session, the moderator asked if there was one more question.
“Is it a raccoon question? I trapped one once,” Dantonio said.
The Spartans have gone from playing in the national championship semifinal in 2015 to 3-9 last season to 9-3 this season. So it was an emotional moment when the seniors went through their final practice this week.
“I think any time you take the jersey off for the last time or practice with your teammates you start to go through emotions, you’ve got to get closure,” Dantonio said.
“We try to make that special for them at the end of our practice and it becomes an emotional experience for some of our guys. Those guys have had some great moments here and we’re just looking for another life moment for them.”
MILESTONES IN REACH
Dantonio is 99-45 (.688) in 11 seasons as Spartans coach. A victory in the Holiday Bowl would make him the eighth active FBS coach to own 100 wins at his current school. MSU is looking for double-digit wins for the eighth time in program history.
MSU sophomore QB Brian Lewerke threw for 2,580 yards and 17 touchdowns against seven interceptions, and ran for 486 yards and five touchdowns.
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