Happy April Fools/Game of Thrones/Etc day Cougs! Yes, today is the day of many things, from the faux "breaking news" tweets, Facebook updates and message board postings, to Season 2 of Game of Thrones!*
(*Disclaimer - I don't watch Game of Thrones. I've heard it's fantastic, and I have watched bits and pieces of it, but I haven't had the chance to do it. I believe I will start watching season 1 on-demand to see what all the fuss is about?)
Anyway, the Cougs scrimmaged yesterday for the first time under Mike Leach, and the results sound, well, a bit "mixed"? There were some highs, there were some lows, but all told it wasn't too bad. Cougfan has you covered there with this story, breaking down pretty much the whole thing.
Instant overreactions(for that is what we do here, overreact to the news!):
1) The offense isn't there - yet. Not that we expected things to be on full throttle just one week+ into spring ball.....but one thing that jumps off the pages when you read Mike Leach's book is how quickly teams in his past picked up his offense. From Tim Couch becoming a #1 pick running his offense at Kentucky, to Oklahoma winning huge with crazy numbers under Leach, to of course Texas Tech doing their thing from the get-go. The HOPE around Coug Nation is that everything falls in to place quickly this fall, what with Jeff Tuel an experienced senior who has seen his fair share of success throwing the football. Given Leach's past, and an offense with some serious looking weapons, I think we all are hoping(expecting?) things to click sooner rather than later!
But we have to be a bit realistic too, and realize that this offense, while simplistic in it's ideals, will still take some time in getting everyone on the same page. You see, so much of the Air Raid offense's success is predicated on the QB and his wideouts being on the same page mentally. It's not like the QB says "OK, slot receiver, run a down-and-in!" and that's the play, period. Instead, the offense is built upon the QB and the WR's seeing the same things, and reacting accordingly. At first it can be tough in the anticipations from a QB and what he THINKS his receivers are going to do. But early on in the process there are bound to be some, shall we say, miscommunication? Where perhaps the QB will see one thing, while the receiver sees or senses something else? The results on these types of things could be ugly in the early stages, but once everything clicks, it's an absolute thing of beauty if you love proficient passing attacks!
Leach says it's simple enough in his book, but basically it's like this - draw a line down the back of the center, essentially the middle of the field. Now look at the defense and find the holes, or open spaces that you can exploit. Now have your receivers go to these open spaces, get them the football, and the yards and points will start to pile up over four quarters. Sounds simple, right?
Is it really THAT easy?? I mean if it was, then every offense in the country would be running this system, averaging 500 yards per game and 40+ points! But when you look at Leach's coaching tree, the Dana Holgerson's and Art Briles of the coaching world and see the numbers those folks are putting up, you realize that it must not be that tough to execute if you have the right people calling the shots?
I guess the point to the ramblings is to just sit tight and give the kids time to figure it out. Jeff Tuel had his moments yesterday, but there were some mistakes as well which can be expected. And as Leach said himself after the scrimmage?:
“We’re improving but today I thought we were up and down,” Leach said. “There would be good efforts and someone would have the upper hand then they’d lay down. With that said we’re better than I thought we would be.”
2) The 3-4 is here to stay? It's early, yeah, we get that. But from scrimmage reactions, it sounds like the 3-4 is going to be at least the base defense and they are going forward with that plan. Travis Long was at the buck linebacker spot again, and the starting defense from yesterday didn't really reveal many surprises. Nice to hear Eric Oertel took an INT back to the house, as he gets a nice long look at the SAM linebacker position.
But who knows what things look like this fall. So much of defenses these days is having an extra defensive back(s?) in on passing downs anyway, you start to wonder if we'll see more of a 3-3-5 look half the time anyway? Or maybe a 4-2-5 with an extra pass rusher with his hand down off the edge? With all the multiple offenses in the Pac-12 and the emphasis on matching up with speed on speed and having the athletes to get out and defend the open spaces, we may not see the traditional 3-4 all that often anyway.
There was a really interesting debate on the 3-4 on KIRO the other day, with Brock Huard and Mike Salk. They just interviewed UW's Steve Sarkisian, as UW is going full steam ahead with their transition to the 3-4 defense. I know I have personally been a proponent of the scheme, just based on the very simple matter of watching all these spread schemes and thinking about how in the hell is the best way to defend that!?!? Do you go with the 4-3 and essentially take an extra speed guy off the field in an effort to defend the run, but leave yourself vulnerable to plays off the edge? Or shouldn't you just go with the 3-4, and while you are a little more vulnerable along the defensive line and you need to have the right personnel in the coaching staff and up front to pull it off, wouldn't it be better to get an extra athlete on the field who can run down plays out in space?? If the offenses are all about speed and getting out in space, shouldn't you get out there as well on defense!?
Salk brought up the idea that to beat spread offenses, shouldn't you just get bigger guys who can physically beat down on speed? But Brock was adamant in the 3-4 scheme and going with the approach of matching up your athletes as much as you possibly can. It has a strong UW lean to it, but it's a really good listen and has some relevance to what WSU is going to try to do on D:
One of the biggest things is that in a real traditional 3-4, ala what you see in the SEC, you need three 300-lb fire hydrants up front to withstand the physical SEC style of play. But out here in the west, I mean aren't we just a bunch of frat boys throwing a nerf football around in the parking lot (note- that is something Mitch Levy at KJR has said for years)?? Who needs a bunch of elephants up front when you see so much action out in wide open spaces, and teams are spreading you out wider and wider every single week? When you face UW and Stanford and their traditional NFL-style sets, you are going to be vulnerable. But the majority of what you are going to see from opposing offenses out west are going to be spreading things out.
It's going to be a tough transition. As Huard says, you have to get bigger, and you have to get faster (duh!). But I am on board with the 3-4, athlete-on-athlete style. I say get a hat on a hat, get more speed and athleticism on the field, and try to match up your defensive personnel with what the offense is going to throw at you! Out here with all the wide open schemes, we can get away from not having superstar 5-star SEC d-linemen provided we have more speed and athleticism on the field.
Finally, all the video from yesterday:
That's it for now. Happy April Fools day, and GO COUGS!