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Coach’s Corner: Lessons from Week One

We’re unable to look forward, so let’s look back.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

San Jose State’s game last Thursday night was not broadcast (as far as I’m aware) on any of the approximately 14 billion television channels and/or streaming services that are floating around the ether today. It seems strange to not be able to have some way of watching an FBS team play, but here we are. Because of that lack of available game film, we can’t scout what the 2018 SJSU Spartans are up to on the field. So instead, we’ll take a look back at week one for the Washington State Cougars, and highlight some of the more interesting things we saw at various points throughout the game.

Pulling a Tackle

Mike Leach likes his offensive linemen big. If he could have five Cody O’Connells protecting his quarterback on every drop back, I’m sure he’d be just fine with that. But even if you’re the size of a continent, you better have some feet if you want to play Power 5 football. Andre Dillard? He has some feet.

As a general rule, when teams pull a lineman, it’s the guard. Occasionally the center pulls if you have a good one, and if you’re a power team, you may pull a guard and tackle and run the old Washington Counter-Trey the Hogs made famous during their Super Bowl years. You don’t often see a tackle pull across formation by himself. You see it even less often in a primarily zone scheme. And I would expect to see it even less often when your linemen take three-foot splits (or more) as ours do, although it does look like they tighten up on the left side to get Dillard a touch closer. Regardless, that’s a long way for a big body to go in a short amount of time. But big #60 did just that on a number of plays on Saturday.

And on the touchdown run by Max Borghi.

And on James Williams’ score as well.

You’ll notice that they only run it out of 20 personnel. Because Dillard is pulling, you need someone to account for the backside defensive end. That’s the H’s job, and I’m sure Borghi and Keith Harrington are just thrilled about being asked to take on a defensive lineman one-on-one. The good news is they don’t have to get much of him; they just need to slow him down so he can’t get in Dillard’s pocket and chase the play down from the backside.

It’s a nice little wrinkle for the offense, and if Mason Miller was the one that brought it into the fold, good on him. For Dillard, it’s another feather in his cap if he has aspirations of playing at the next level. Given his skill set, he may project to guard, similar to the transition Joe Dahl made. If NFL teams see he can effectively pull across formation, that might move him up in the eyes of the scouts.

Who Needs Defensive Linemen Anyway?

The issues of depth on the defensive line have been well documented throughout the preseason, and they continue to be unsettled with Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei’s status still up in the air. Good coaches adapt, and Tracy Claeys adapted by just getting rid of the defensive line altogether.

The Cougar defense got Wyoming in a number of third and long situations. Statistics say, even for a power run team like the Cowboys, that that’s a passing down. So to match up personnel and double down on WSU’s speed advantage, Claeys swapped out the defensive tackle and the nose tackle for an extra Rush linebacker and an extra corner. Claeys also slid DE Will Rodgers III down to the nose.

Yeah, the Cougar defense played a 1-4-6 defense. Like you do.

And the biggest guy on the field weighed in at 250 pounds.

And Wyoming ended up converting only three of thirteen third downs faced.

So no, CougCenter writer guy, Claeys doesn’t have time for your second defensive lineman. One is plenty enough for this defense.

Empty Set

We saw some Empty!

Honestly, it scared the hell out of me the few times we went Empty with Luke Falk. The F is such a good security blanket in pass protection, or as a checkdown out of the backfield, and lord knows Falk didn’t need to take any more hits than he already did. And to be perfectly candid, it still increases my heart rate significantly with Gardner Minshew II back there. But Mewtwo has a level of escapability that Falk never had, which can get him out of trouble at times.

The offense was in Empty about a half dozen times and saw a pretty good amount of success with it, so I would anticipate seeing it with regularity the rest of the year. I’d like to see them swap out the F for a receiver more often than not, but that of course will tip your hand to a defensive staff on the other side of the field.

Big Gulp Left

A lot was made of Mike Leach’s new formation—some of it by Mike Leach himself. Now known as Big Gulp Left, it featured Kyle Sweet showcasing another one of his apparent plethora of football skills: snapping the ball. Of course, it was snapped to James Williams who, as you may be aware, is a running back and not a quarterback. Crazy Mike Leach doing weird football things, right? Well, sort of.

The Swinging Gate has been around since the 1930s, and while Big Gulp isn’t exactly that, the gate is its ancestor. As I mentioned in a comment section earlier this week, Timberline High School in Lacey, WA ran the Swinging Gate as their base offense for a time in the late ‘90s. We’ve even seen it in the Pac-12 recently, as Oregon liked to employ it for a two-point conversion after their first touchdown of a game. (Here’s a good look at it from The Fish Report.) It even pops up from time to time in the NFL.

But here’s the dirty little secret about Big Gulp: It’s really just Ace.

Yeah, the same old formation that is basic Air Raid and that the Cougs run about 1000 times a game on average. Here’s Ace:

And here’s a screenshot of the formation at the snap of the ball:

Sweet’s snapping the ball, but he’s still at Y. BOOBIE just runs inside zone from the same angle at F. There’s an X and an H where they normally are, and the Z ends up outside the Y, as per usual. Defensive coordinators going forward are probably going to be able to sniff this out pretty well and have their teams prepared for it, but it still can be enough of a surprise to catch somebody off guard. If nothing else, it’s something they have to waste practice time on.

Despite it being less than unique, or even original, it’s fun. And football is better when it’s fun, no matter what Petey would say. And when it sends the blogospheres and Twitterverse into a tizzy and gets Wazzu into the national conversation, even better.