The Washington State Cougars started hot again last Saturday afternoon, amassing 208 yards on their first 16 plays during three drives that all ended in touchdowns. Through two games, the Cougs are averaging a jaw-dropping 9.62 yards per play and quarterback Anthony Gordon (11.9) is averaging around five yards per pass more than Gardner Minshew (7.2) and Luke Falk (6.7) in their last seasons. Despite the caveat of competition, that’s still off-the-charts impressive.
Yards mean nothing if you don’t score, and the Cougs have been doing plenty of that too.
Northern Colorado won the toss — against the best efforts of new, solo coin flip captain Renard Bell — and elected to receive, moving the ball four yards in six plays before punting it away.
The Cougars took over on their own 38-yard line and moved into the red zone on three plays. Wazzu lines up in their 3x1 “Early” formation and motions running back Max Borghi to the trips side with the snap. No one follows him.
The highlighted defensive back is the entire read for this play. If he sits and muddies the interior, no one is shadowing Borghi. If he crashes in on Borghi’s swing route, Winston just needs to beat his man inside or Harris roast his DB on a wheel. The other safety is guarding against a backside post from X receiver Davontavean Martin.
The two outside defensive backs (top) are locked in man-coverage, facing a wheel-post combination from WSU’s H receiver, Travell Harris and Z receiver, Easop Winston. Brandon Arconado runs a curl from Y.
Gordon has his eyes on the defensive back from the snap. The back’s given a choice here and Gordon is essentially playing the role of a counter-puncher, reading the hips and reacting to whichever way the back plays it.
After a moment or two of being enticed by Arconado’s curl route, the lightbulb goes off and he breaks for Borghi’s swing. Leaving just enough space for Gordon to thread the needle off his back hip.
Winston climbs the ladder and hauls it in. Perfect pocket, perfect timing, perfect route.
Wazzu continued to reverse the trend of terrible third quarters from last year by going 68 yards in six plays to set up first and goal from the 7-yard line — the perfect situational field position to run four verts.
The Bears lined up in what definitely should’ve been man coverage with a single free safety. Their defensive backs do a sort of meandering halfhearted attempt at coverage (top) that results in three of them covering an inside seam.
Unlike the last play, this highlighted safety is not interested in taking away the backside post and instead floats toward the trips from a spot where he’s not really capable of providing much help unless a route finds him by chance.
Gordon keys him at the snap to make sure Winston is clear in his one-on-one outside.
Winston is facing tight coverage from a corner with outside leverage, not ideal for a fade to the pylon. He delays his release and drifts inside, stacking the corner to take away his leverage.
At this point the corner is toast and Gordon knows it. All he has to do is drop it in the bucket.
Long Live Redzone Fades.
The Cougs aren’t just racking up yards, they’re lighting up the scoreboard too. Their versatility is a large part of what has made them so incredibly difficult to defend in the red zone. It could be Max Borghi up the gut on an inside zone, or quick slants, or in the case for this week’s awesome plays — two route combinations that a more traditional offense would only call at midfield on third down.
They’ll hit you with any of it.