Monday afternoon held promise for fans of Washington State Cougar football. Head man Mike Leach returned a sense of rhythm to this season of football by conducting his weekly press conference.
Amid his responses to perfunctory questions served up by media, Leach laced the session with a smattering of gems.
Some say the key component to effectively running Coach Leach’s Air Raid offense is the quarterback. I would argue this season has proved otherwise.
Without steady consistent play from the host of wide receivers called for in Air Raid formations, the offense will sputter and eventually fizzle out.
When asked to evaluate the performance of his WR corps over the first nine games, Leach was typically forthright.
“I’ve been somewhat pleased by how they block this year. We’re getting better at that,” was the initial assessment.Oct 12, 2013; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars wide receiver River Cracraft (84) makes a catch against the Oregon State Beavers during the second half at Martin Stadium. The Beavers beat the Cougars 52-24. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Leach went on to cite Vince Mayle, Rickey Galvin, Bobby Ratliff and Kristoff Williams for their ability to make critical blocks which have led to nice plays. Those four were credited for stepping up much of the time to spring teammates for yardage.
But even those four failed to rate as reaching the level of play Leach expects from the receiver position.
He did go on to mention River Cracraft for commendable play.
For Washington State to earn victories in their final three games this season, improved blocking from the WR position is critical.
Just as critical to offensive success would be receivers fulfilling the task their position is named for. Receiving. In recent games WSU players have dropped a lot of very catchable balls snuffing out too many drives. The fact Leach didn’t even mention this problem speaks volumes.
One guy who Leach expanded on was true freshman River Cracraft. The young man from Trabuco Canyon, CA had an impressive career at Santa Margarita High School. Cracraft secured 134 receptions over his four years good for second in SMHS history behind former NFL player Brian Finneran.Oct 19, 2013; Eugene, OR, USA; Washington State Cougars wide receiver River Cracraft (84) is tackled by Oregon Ducks cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (14) and linebacker Tyson Coleman (33) and linebacker Derrick Malone (22) at Autzen Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports
Usually the jump from high school to college football requires the majority of student-athletes to develop a competitive skill set over a couple of years.
In the case of Cracraft, “Came in ready to play right away.”
Leach reflected on the first few months this freshman has been in Pullman saying, “He just quietly went fast and went hard every single play. If you get guys who will go hard every play and not slow themselves down, typically because of anxiety and sometimes because the loaf, then they get a level of consistency and they can build their skills.”
Every recruit joining every team wants to play right away. Patience is a rare virtue of 18-year old guys.
“He’s been a starter since the day he got here,” explained Leach. “That all started in camp.”
To offer a better understanding of how River Cracraft has become a starter as a true freshman, Coach Leach shared the insights gained from coaching the Southern California transplant.Oct 13, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola (80) runs after a reception against the New Orleans Saints during the third quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Saints 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
“A guy I had in the past that he reminds me a lot of is Danny Amendola (of the NFL New England Patriots). He’s not necessarily perfect. If you needed him to adjust something he probably wasn’t going to. He was just going to do it exactly like it was on the board at full speed. He’s going to go full speed just like the (drawn) line on the board. With guys like that you have to make sure how you draw the lines on the board because they’ll duplicate it exactly.”
Shifting gears, Leach had some fun with a mundane question. In this day of media hype/coverage, it seems some feel an obligation to characterize the final few games of any team’s schedule as deserving greater importance and effort than those preceding the final stages.
Does Coach Leach feel a sense of “urgency” with only 3-games remaining on the regular season schedule?
“We cheated the first part of the season. We had no sense of urgency whatsoever. We loafed the entire time. So now…these last three we’re going to have a big sense of urgency.”
Leach delivered those lines with the aplomb of a seasoned actor. Yes, Leach did some professional acting while attending law school at Pepperdine University in Malibu, CA.
He let the media rep off the hook a bit by returning to the role of providing substantive information about Cougar football.
“… you try each game. Make each game important to you. Get the most out of each game. You push each one the hardest. There’s nothing you save back. There’s nothing you hide in the vault. There’s no secret stuff we have packed away that we’re going to break out for a special occasion. It’s all broke out. It’s all out there. We want to do our best every play whether it’s out there in practice or whether it’s playing the New England Patriots. I’d like to think we give our best effort every time.”
— WSU Coach Mike Leach
Check back to AllCoug’dUp for more on the future of Mike Leach and Washington State football including ACU story HERE. We’ll have a story on the possibility for extending Leach’s contract.