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HCA: Mike Leach takes out his marking pen

What did the coach himself think of the plays his class came up with?

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington
Nov 25, 2017; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach munches on a banana during pregame warm-ups before the start of a game against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Insurgent Warfare & Football Strategy course tweeted out some of the football plays that students had submitted as part of their final project. Our guy, Jesse Cassino, evaluated them.

Now, Washington State Cougars coach Mike Leach has weighed in.

Sports Illustrated picked a handful of plays and the coach evaluated them. They didn’t pick all the same plays Jesse did, but there was a little bit of overlap between them. Let’s look at those ones.

Submitted by Austin Anderson, Gabe Arguinchona, Riley Hougan, David Windsor, and Nick Zieglemann

Here’s what Jesse wrote:

Functionality - This is like ... seven different plays blended into one. Individually, all of these little wrinkles are nice, but put them all together and it’s a lot for a quarterback to process. The first look is the shovel pass back to the Z, but I don’t know how the quarterback is supposed to read that when his back will be to the space he’s looking for. The H is dragging across the back of the end zone, but that’s asking the QB to roll right and throw back to the middle of the field. That’s usually a recipe for disaster. The last read is the pitch, but that’s a lot of action before you get to it, and I don’t know if there’s enough room to the sideline for all that. On top of all that, I don’t even know how you would begin to approach this play in terms of teaching it. Grade: D+

Air Raid Compatibility - This is essentially an RPO type of play, albeit much more complicated. That’s not really something we see too much in the pure Air Raid scheme Leach runs. Neither is rolling the QB or the F lining up in the Pistol or running a speed option. It’s hard to see this one happening. Grade: D-

Creativity - All that being said, I’m willing to admit that I might just be behind the times with this new style of offense. Maybe multiple blind reads are the way of the future in football. It is certainly a unique blend of several different concepts, and that’s how we’ve gotten some new offensive schemes in recent years. And, of course, it would be wild to see it on the field. Grade: A-

Here’s how Leach saw it:

Leach seemed impressed by this play’s detail. He liked how the various options meshed with one another, particularly the “rub route” action with the Z and Y receivers. “I think what they’re doing with Z and Y is really pretty clever,” Leach says. “If they follow Z, you throw it to Y. If they don’t follow Z, you throw it to Z. That’s very simple.”

The only thing is, Leach thinks five options may be too many for the quarterback to read, essentially, in a split second: “I don’t think the quarterback, as he takes the snap, can sprint out there and say, ‘Should I run? Should I pitch? Oh damn, I missed the Z. Should I shuttle pass it to Z? Or should I throw it to Y? Is Y going to sit there or is Y going to run his route?’ I think that’s too difficult.” Instead, if Leach were to call this play, he’d tell his quarterback to focus on only two of the five options, and he’d choose those two based on how the defense was playing them. “You could potentially run the play three times, and have two different options each time,” he says. “You could have two sets of options one game, two sets of options the next game, and then two sets of options the following game, and then start all over again.”

Then, there was this one:

Submitted by James Dalton, Zach McBride, and Kellan Sullivan

What Jesse said:

Functionality - A lot of things to like here, but there are some details that concern me a little, particularly with the defensive ends. On the left side, they want the tackle to “kick and take [the] end with [him].” It would probably be safer if the tackle just sealed the end and forced him outside. If he beats the tackle inside, this play is dead on arrival. Similarly, with the right tackle pulling across formation, if the defensive end gets in his hip pocket, he’s going to be in the play. I don’t think the Y’s split will change that, despite what the note says. If I’m drawing this up, I may have the F come through and cut that end, which should slow the end down enough that the Y can run away from him. Handoffs by non-quarterbacks can give OCs an ulcer, but rep it enough and it should be doable. Grade: B+

Air Raid Compatibility - This type of misdirection play isn’t something that we see a whole lot of in Mike Leach’s offense. The offense isn’t predicated on trying to deceive the defense; the goal is simply to exploit the natural gaps opened up by the routes and splits of the line. But this play does remind me of one we saw Kyrin Priester run on a few occasions back in 2015. Out of an empty set, Priester would line up tight to the line. At the snap, he would run across formation, behind the OL, and take a quick flip from Falk who was rolling to Priester’s side. We haven’t run that play since 2015, but it does have some similarities to Yankee Cross here. A double handoff is a bit of a different animal though. Grade: C-

Creativity - There’s a high school in our conference here in North Carolina that runs this very play, albeit out of a formation that’s closer to the Wing-T that is their base offense. But it is absolutely devastating when they catch you with it. The second exchange happens so quickly that it’s difficult to pick up on from the sideline, let alone having to find the slotback behind the big uglies. It’s a helluva play when executed. Grade: C+

What Leach said:

Leach seems intrigued by this play, especially if he has the speed at the X and Y receiver positions to run it properly. He also likes the misdirection involved here, and the way the student designed the blocking scheme. “I think you can block it up pretty good,” Leach says. “The line play on it is kind of appealing. I like that play from the beginning.”

His one concern is that the handoff between the receivers could get messy. “There’s a fear with the handoff, because it happens really kind of too quick,” he says. Instead, Leach would have the X receiver motion across, have his quarterback fake the handoff, and then have the quarterback toss the ball to the Y receiver, who can hit the gap the same as before. The X receiver would act entirely as a decoy, coming across the formation on a fake fly sweep. “It would probably work,” Leach says. “You can’t run it every time, but if you’re determined to run the fly sweep, I think it’s a good complement. I think it keeps them honest.”

It’s a fun read! You can check out the other three plays here.


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