PULLMAN -- One year ago, Washington State lined up with one running back and two tight ends -- 12 personnel -- to face Oklahoma State. On the first play from scrimmage, Jeff Tuel, taking snaps under center, turned to hand the ball off. The ball hit the turf, the Cowboys recovered and the wheels immediately came off. Since then, the Cougars' offense has come a long way.
Fast forward to Saturday at Martin Stadium, where the Cougars opened the season against Idaho State. Washington State again took possession first, but this time did so with great field position. And just one year later, the Cougars' offense had a completely different look. Gone were the ace formations and the standard use of a base 12 formation. In their place was a spread-oriented offense in principle and a wide variety of personnel packages and formations.
The Cougars opened the season in 10 personnel -- one running back, zero tight ends and four wide receivers. We saw this quite a bit last season, with the WSU offense receiving a face-lift in the fourth week after beginning the season 1-2 with an attack that can only be described as anemic. Marshall Lobbestael, taking snaps to start the game, worked out of the gun to begin the day against Idaho State, with Rickey Galvin to his left or right.
But this wasn't the offense we saw for the better part of the 2010 season. In some ways, it was similar, but subtle difference meant a significant shift. After using 10 personnel for the first series, the playbook began to open up, and we saw a glimpse of what offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy can do.
And I left impressed.
Washington State used a wide variety of personnel packages and formations to open the season, with some more creative than others. Of course, the standard 10 personnel we've become accustomed to was prevalent, with receivers spread out, bunched, and even lined up in a tight trips formation to the far side, outside the numbers. But the tight ends were back, as well, even if they weren't a force in the passing game.
To highlight the creativity, one needs to look no further than the second drive of the game. Washington State began mixing and matching formations and personnel packages, including 11 -- one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers -- and 12 -- one back, two tight ends, two wide receivers. But none of these personnel packages were utilized in vanilla formations.
Isiah Barton caught a wonderfully-thrown ball to cap the Cougars' second drive of the game, falling into the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown. This play, perhaps more than anything, stood out to me. Barton lined up in the backfield in a sort of shotgun full-house formation. Lobbestael was in the gun, standing in the middle of the formation. Behind him was a running back. To the left and right, as wings, were Barton and a blocker.
Barton came out of the backfield and ran a seven-yard out. He was wide-open the entire time. But as he broke to the sidelines, he quickly changed directions and sprinted up-field. A simple out-and-up, with Barton coming out of the backfield, caused confusion on the defensive side of the ball and Lobbestael took advantage.
In fact, it was Barton who became the versatile, line-up-anywhere player for the Cougs. He was used in the slot, in a trips formation, in the backfield as described above, and even as the tailback in that same shotgun full-house-type formation.
The route trees were far from complicated and the running game was based off zone principles, but simple twists provided versatility and variety for the WSU offense. We've been hard on Todd Sturdy before, but we're all beginning to see what he's capable of as an offensive coordinator. The training wheels are off, and this offense has the potential to be a fun one to watch.