WSU Spring Game 2012: What To Watch For

For most, Saturday will be the first chance to see Mike Leach and the 2012 Washington State Cougar football team in action. It won't be real, of course, but the Crimson and Gray game is as good as we're going to get until September, and the season-opener against BYU. There will be live action, a game-like scrimmage format and a fully-installed offense facing a fullly-installed defense.

And since most of you are flying blind, we might as well preview the spring game. What you see might not match up with what you expect, so we're here to crush hopes and dreams before Leach awes everyone later -- simply by being Leach.

  • This will be as competitive as a live, regular-season game. This staff yells, cusses and argues during a team session on Tuesday; they'll go at it during the spring game. Everything -- really, everything -- is a competition. The defense wants to beat the offense and vice-versa, and the coaching staff is in on it, too. Don't expect anyone to be taking it easy. If a big hit is there, the defense will take it. If a play is working, the offense will run it over and over again -- Madden style. This isn't a time to just work on things; that's come and gone. It should be full-go.
  • The starters are already set. For all intents and purposes, the first-team has been set for weeks, but the spring game is less about finding combinations and figuring out who fits in the rotations -- that's already been done, and will happen again in the fall. For the most part, we all know the starters, and if you've been paying attention you do, too. Jeff Tuel is the quarterback right now, the defense is basically set and we all know the wide receiving rotation -- there's a lot of them. If anything is still being tweaked, it's the offensive line, where injuries and players sitting out have creating a revolving door effect.
  • Leach's offense isn't the Rex Grossman offense -- F*** it, goin' deep -- you might think. The fun way to look at Leach's playcalling is through the prism of six, his four verts route combination. Don't. The fun anecdotes about him running six over and over to exploit a weakness are just that -- fun -- but it's not exactly what you'll see. Leach's quick game -- short routes, the meshes, etc -- and screen game are a huge part of the offense and take the place of a standard running play. There may be times you wonder why everything is underneath. Remember: It's by design, and not everything is a home run swing.
  • Is Leach doing anything different with his offense? The short answer is yes, but it's more tweaks and wrinkles than an overhaul -- small things that may be noticeable if he shows them. And to be clear, I'm not even sure what we'll see on Saturday or if he'll show everything that's been installed. For the most part, though, this is the same offense he ran at Texas Tech and everywhere else, though it's undergone a bit of evolution along the way.
  • Mike Breske's defense may not be what you think it is. By now, Breske's defense should be installed completely. At the last scrimmage, it wasn't quite there, and they were still adding things slowly. He did, however, expect to have everything in for this weekend. Whether he shows it or not is a different question.
  • Thinking of Breske's defense as a 3-4 is fun, but that's not exactly what it is. When he said multiple, he meant multiple. That means different looks, both on the front- and back-end. It may look like a three-man front one play, then look like something different the next. And a lot of that pivots on Travis Long -- something you may notice on Saturday.
  • What about the aggressiveness? You'll see that, a lot. When Leach said Breske's playcalling was like a raffle, he meant is. They're going to blitz from all angles, through any gap, and at any time.
  • It's worth remembering this could be a very long "game." Leach plans to run about 100 plays -- a pretty normal scrimmage that follows the pattern we've seen all spring. But of those 100 plays, a huge chunk will be passes. Start getting used to this now: Games will be longer, the clock will stop a lot and time will move like molasses. That's the trade-off with a pass-heavy offense, and it's not a bad thing. Saturday should be an introduction to it all.
  • Players to watch. In no particular order: Blair Bomber, Chester Su'a, Eric Oertel, Bobby Ratliff, Xavier Cooper and Andrei Lintz.
  • Storylines. Nothing, really. The big one -- the quarterback competition -- was pushed back to fall. The first-team has been more-or-less solidified, with only the offensive line changing significantly on a day-to-day basis. The running backs still need to separate themselves as Leach tries to find a rotation, but everything else is about what one would expect.

In other words, the spring game is something you can just take in and enjoy. There's a ton of buzz around it, and has been since Leach has been hired, so it'll be interesting to see the turnout. When I first started doing this, the spring game was held at Martin Stadium, no credentials were needed, and maybe 1,000 people showed up.

Now, it's a credentialled event, 10-15,000 people are expected and the game is the conerstone of Spokane week. It's quite the change.

Back with more after the game. I'll be flying into Spokane from Baltimore -- this was written at 7 a.m. ET, and I'm probably somewhere over the midwest right now -- just before the game starts and should get to the stadium right on time, if all goes according to plan.

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