Mike Leach always has a plan.
Sometimes it’s not one that jumps to the naked eye (or mind) of a fan right away, but it’s always prevalent. When coach Mike Breske pointed out that one of the benefits of the camp was playing on grass which will help with the first two games, it came to me; this was the plan all along.
Ten days at a Lewiston middle school, on mostly crappy turf compared to anything you’ll see in a college-only football stadium (for the most part), it’s about more than building camaraderie. Not that it would be at all bad if that was the only reason, but it’s about more than that. It’s about being away from home in back to back weeks and it’s about learning how to play on a real-grass surface.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s about bonding too, probably even as much as any of it. These players are feeling a closeness to their teammates that they haven’t experienced. No more individuality dominating the headlines, no more stat-whoring (as we like to joke about in the video game world) but rather, team oriented focus. You can hear it in the interviews.
4-star quarterback Tyler Bruggman said he’ll be ready to play or sit and watch behind Halliday or Apodaca. Darryl Monroe said he teases Deone Bucannon that he’s going to dominate the tackle stats, but at the end of the day he doesn’t care if a win is on the board. Bucannon said he’s excited to be a physical leader through his play and will help anybody willing to ask him for it. Connor Halliday talked about his role as a leader of the team and how it’s his job to bring the team together every day more than the next.
Coaches have taken the tv’s out of the dorm rooms in Lewiston so that when players go to sleep they are either getting to know each other as teammates or sleeping, an all-business approach. All of it, minus about 80,000 fans plus (and a charter plane), will be what WSU faces in weeks one and two when they travel across the country to face the Auburn Tigers and then down South to square off with the USC Trojans.
This is by far the most effort put towards getting his team ready for the first game of any coach that’s come through Washington State. Not saying others haven’t tried and who knows if it’ll work enough to get the Cougs a win in either game, but Leach successfully captured the enormity of what these first two games mean to this team and is working his darndest to ready his team for the full gamut of challenges that await them.
He could have done this grass thing in Pullman, but would’ve missed the travel aspect. He could’ve done it later in camp to go from grass to grass, but would’ve missed the opportunity for early team building (the best time to grow together is early). It’s smart.
You probably wouldn’t even think playing on grass was different enough to matter over the course of a four hour game, but it’s verifiable. Auburn and USC practice on it every day. They don’t slow down when they hit a grass surface, they speed up when they hit field-turf. It’s huge and it’s mostly felt in the first quarter. At no point on the road do you want to fall behind and try to play catch-up while playing slower than normal, especially against a fast team as Auburn is.
Look back to the BYU tape of last season and you can see a lot of slipping early in the game and bad angles taken due to the fact the player thought he could get there but wasn’t as fast as he normally is on a field-turf surface. You see some throws that normally would’ve been completed but were off by a step and a half because of the slower receiver. Shanked punts, bad tackling mechanics… the list of small things goes on, and they all go a long way when they’re added together. The Cougs fell behind and never recovered.
This is simply a genius move by Mike Leach. Auburn and USC will be ready to play fast from the kickoff and now Washington State should be ready too.