Washington State Football: Sprinkling Some Pistol Offense, QB Recruiting Philosophy and Halliday vs Apodaca


Sept. 29, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Holliday (12) drops back for a pass against the Oregon Ducks during the first half at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Last night I got a very interesting response to my question to Cougar followers, just wanted to discuss a little bit as it’ll take more than 14o characters.

While there is no indication that Jared here actually wants Apodaca to start, he introduces an interesting argument; that WSU’s implementation of the Pistol offense would likely be geared towards a quarterback with more athletic ability than Halliday possesses, which then becomes a major bonus for Austin in the race.

Like I said, it’s an interesting thought, but quite frankly the argument holds little weight when analyzed even a little deeply, due to the overall recruiting plan of Mike Leach and the his past history, not to mention the offensive mainstay of the Air-Raid.

Leach is dead set on a certain type of QB in his offenses and generally they aren’t “athletic” in the form that you would think of for the modern day Pistol. They can move a little bit, but they don’t have anywhere near the running abilities of a Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick or even on the less extreme end a Keith Price or Jeff Tuel. That’s why Leach preaches dumping the ball off so much, if you’ll remember the Texas Tech offenses under Leach generally had running backs leading the way in receptions.

In all reality adding the Pistol to the Mike Leach brand of offense has nothing to do with Halliday Vs Apodaca, or any other quarterback for that matter. Jim Mastro was added to this staff in year one because of his coaching abilities first, with the additional benefit of his specific knowledge of the Pistol in all its’ forms. It’s not like Mastro was added this season and Mike Leach’s qualifying attributes at quarterback will suddenly change for it.

Also, the Cougars weren’t waiting for this year to add because they had somebody waiting in the wings, they just had too much to deal with as it was to even consider the burden on their offense. All you have to do is look at the recruitment of Tyler Bruggman and Peyton Bender to realize that the Cougs aren’t trying to get “more athletic” at QB. Let’s face it, the Air-Raid is here to stay, so the trigger-pullers are going to come Leach-recruited and Leach-approved based on a normal requisite of Leach-attributes; strong arm, quick release, accurate, highly intelligent, leader.

Yes, the head man has been more or less unofficially candid about the Cougars tinkering with adding in elements of the Pistol for their offense. After all (as previously stated) innovation in that area is one reason Mastro was brought on. That’s not to say though, that the Cougs suddenly need more athleticism than what Halliday possesses to make this a successful install. Remember, this is not an overhauled system in any sense, it’s merely a sprinkling-in of sorts.

The reason for minor integration is that the Pistol set gives different elements for the defense to have to prepare for, including a semblance of a downhill running game that the traditional Air-Raid simply does not offer. Hiding the running back behind the QB allows a quick handoff in either direction and also adds an element of play-action that you simply cannot show out of the Shotgun. Also think about the addition of the jet-sweep that Oregon State became popular for the last couple years with the Rodgers’ brothers. Three more added benefits include:

  • better angles for throwing bubble screens,
  • the extra step and a half that the offensive tackles will have to work with due to the defensive ends having a flatter aiming point at the quarterback,
  • and Halliday himself ran some pistol sets fairly successfully in the Levenseller offense his redshirt freshman season, so there’s a comfortability there.

It’s still unclear as to whether or not Leach and Mastro will get enough in-sync to make the occasional Pistol look a reality but if they do indeed have it in the works (all indications are that they are at least tinkering with the idea) it would expand the Cougar offense. The idea of it is not to insert more quarterback runs, it’s to add elements of preparation and surprise to the defense that aren’t currently possible out of the every day Shotgun set. While the Air Raid is fairly simplistic, Leach’s offensive mind thrives on the idea of pressure on the defense on “levels” and this thought of the Pistol would add the “new level” of sophistication to the offense, more than anything else.

All that said, I don’t think Apodaca wins the race based on being more “suited” to the Pistol offense that the Cougs are thinking about integrating. If he does win, it will be because he improves so much over the course of the Summer that he blows Halliday away in elements specific to the passing game. Not sure I’ve heard anything that points in that direction, even from Apodaca supporters.