The Washington State Cougars have always been known as “Quarterback U”, but over the past three years they have kicked it up a notch, moving to a primary passing attack within Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.
Even though he was putting up good numbers, Connor Halliday struggled for about a year and a half in the system before the light bulb turned on in Tuscon last season. Now, he and Leach are quite frequently on the same page when it comes to checks and balances from the QB position and how to run the offense.
But it will take more than just that to make sure the Cougs come out of this season better than they did in 2013, WSU is in need of a “chunk” gaining run game. In the near future I’ll address why the hand-off doesn’t have to be a major part of the offensive mindset to maintain balance, but in the meantime it is important to note that the Cougs do in fact need that in their offense.
Also important to note that it needs to be more than mildly effective, it needs to pick up chunks. That means 8, 10, 12, 15 yards or more throughout the ballgame. That may be difficult to fathom, but to consider that Halliday picks all of his plays from pass-pro sets at the line of scrimmage where there is a void in the defense, these plays are designed to pick up at least that much yardage.
About a week ago after a practice in Lewiston, Halliday praised the blocking and execution of the running game to this point in the preseason.
We’ve made huge strides in the run game, huge strides. The line also ran blocked really well today so that was good to see.
For the Cougs to go where they want to go, that needs to become ‘every day’. When you think back to Leach’s Texas Tech days (if you had the chance to watch the Red Raiders) that’s what made those team’s so impossible to stop. With Leach, I’m not sure the Raiders ever had two kids that could match the physical attributes of a Jamal Morrow or Gerard Wicks out of the backfield (more often they had an athlete resembling Theron West, Marcus Mason or Teondray Caldwell), yet they would gash teams consistently.
Leach has also been pretty steady in his praise for his running backs. Leading up to the bowl game and throughout the Spring the talk from the head coach was all about T-West, but as the Summer has gone on and now into Fall Morrow has been consistently added to the Leach quotes at the end of practice. Running backs coach Jim Mastro has also been beyond positive about his group, calling it the most talent he’s ever been around on a 5-deep roster.
That’s pretty impressive, but it only helps if it translates over and of course the backs will need to catch the football as well. I believe Wicks has been out to practice early of late, catching tennis balls to help him catch the football easier. That’s what will separate you from a decent back in Leach’s offense, to a really good or great one, the ability to catch the rock and then make a guy miss.
The Cougs have to go from “serviceable” in this area to “a little bit dangerous” if they are wanting to get to the top of the Pac-12 Conference anytime soon. The Cougs need to make it so that fans of the rest of the conference know who these kids are when their names are mentioned. If they can accomplish that, the Cougars will probably be in very, very good shape when we get to the end of the season.