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WSU FOOTBALL: Cougars' Previous Passing Prowess Might Be Working Against Them

Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

The passing game was the clear strength of WSU offense a year ago - a remarkable accomplishment considering Jeff Tuel, the guy who was supposed to lead it, went down in the first game, only returning for six quarters the rest of the year. Backup quarterback Marshall Lobbestael took the reins for most of the rest of the year did a more-than-admirable job, exhibiting a command of the system that superseded his physical limitations. And, of course, there was Connor Halliday's nearly 500-yard outburst in a win over Arizona State.

The prevailing thought was that Mike Leach was just what this program needed to take an already good offense and make it spectacular. While we had been warned that it takes time for Leach to fully implement his Air Raid and have it truly take off, it seemed reasonable to at least entertain the possibility that the Cougars - who we already knew could throw the ball - wouldn't quite have the bumps in the road that other schools had in switching to the Air Raid.

Then a funny thing happened. The offense struggled. A lot.

Why? It seems counterintuitive that a team that can throw the ball so well under one coach would have such a hard time throwing it under another. But the more I have thought about this, the more I've convinced myself that it might not actually be counterintuitive at all. Actually, I think it makes a lot of sense that this installation isn't going quickly.

One thing we know about Mike Leach is that he's incredibly particular. He's particular about his practices. He's particular about his injury reports. And he's obsessively particular about his offense.

Look at who he hired for his coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball: They're all guys he either coached with before or coached while at Texas Tech. He surrounded himself with people who know him and know how he wants things done. Ultimately, that will be a great thing - his system has worked at every single level of football at which it's been implemented, and WSU will be no different.

But imagine you've spent the last two or three years being taught to read defenses a certain way, to throw the ball to certain spots against certain coverages, to progress through patterns in a certain order, to run routes to certain places ... and then all of a sudden, you're told, "Stop doing that. Do it this way. Forget all that stuff that gave you success last year - trust me, my way will get us where we want to go."

This is where I wonder if having thrown the ball so much - on more than 60 percent of plays in 2011 - actually has worked against WSU in this process. If a team was run-first before Leach showed up -- as Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kentucky were -- sure, there would be a lot of things to learn about throwing the ball, but is it easier to learn new passing concepts from scratch, or to learn a different way of doing things? Unlearning things takes time, and can sometimes be incredibly difficult.

And it's not a matter of effort, really. Leach has remarked a number of times how hard working the team has been, and how eager they've been to please. They're trying. It's just that the term "old habits die hard" exists for a reason. And when guys are focusing more on thinking about how to do it the way the new coach wants it done, rather than simply reading and reacting, you get what you've gotten: Indecision, receivers who aren't in the right place, receivers who can't get separation, wide open receivers who are missed, and interceptions that come from throwing the ball to the wrong spot.

At some point, this thing is going to click. And when it does, it'll be spectacular. But maybe we should be so surprised it's taking this long to happen.