The Washington State Cougars offense started off with a bang on Saturday night in a mostly filled Martin Stadium. The Cougs racked up two touchdowns in their first eight plays to open the game, with both drives ending on plays that put an exclamation point on one attribute — speed.
After seven years, the basic conceit of the Air Raid offense has become a dull hammer blow of repetitive commentary — get the ball to receivers in space. As if any offense would prefer their receivers tightly guarded and tackled immediately. But that point remains, and sometimes space exists simply because the guys in your jerseys are that much faster.
Case in point: Rodrick Fisher.
Wazzu took possession of the ball on their own 34-yard-line after a nine-play opening drive by the New Mexico State Aggies that resulted in a missed field goal. Five plays and two minutes later, the Cougs were celebrating their first touchdown of the season.
Sitting on a fresh set of downs at the NMSU 41, Wazzu quarterback Anthony Gordon took his shot.
New Mexico State is playing a zone coverage but without any real help over the top. The outside backer passes off WSU’s H inside receiver (top) and drifts to the flat. The backer up at the line shadows Max Borghi, while the other two take their respective hook-to-curl zone drops.
Wazzu Y inside receiver Brandon Arconado (bottom) runs a shallow, which is played by the boundary safety as sort of aimless drifting inside until he spots the in-breaking route by H. That in-route got the attention of both safeties and an inside linebacker, which meant their corner was in a footrace with the fastest player on the field and zero help.
Play the fight song.
New Mexico State responded with their own touchdown drive and the Cougs took two plays to get back into Aggie territory at the 48.
Wazzu runs a hitch/corner combination out of their 2x2 “Ace” formation a lot during a game. Repetitive things can encourage a defense to cheat. Defenses are impatient creatures and anxious to make plays. They love to jump routes, especially when they’ve seen it a handful of times and are bored with it.
This tendency is exploitable.
Because other times, that space for a wide receiver is created due to scheme.
NMSU is bringing heat this play, leaving man coverage to the boundary (top) and a combo coverage to the field (bottom).
Patmon hitches at the top of Godon’s drop. Gordon is able to spot the only free safety on the field — both defenders to the boundary are locked in man coverage — drifting toward the boundary to get on top of the corner route from Y. The only person in the middle of the field is wearing zebra stripes.
Patmon dusts the corner in his hip pocket and even outruns a safety with an angle to hit paydirt. Scheme created space and Patmon’s speed exploited it.
If you think that looks familiar...well, the Cougs have been running it a long time.
That’d be Marquess Wilson from back in 2012.
Patmon housed an easy pitch and catch, which was impressive, but it’s also worth highlighting why that was an easy pitch for Gordon.
NMSU has six men up at the line of scrimmage, two are just outside the frame of the camera below, wide of the Washington State tackles. The right side of the line slides, with the center picking up the backer, the guard taking the defensive tackle and the right tackle drop-stepping to engage the wide defensive end.
The left side of the line blocks it to put a big on big — the left guard and tackle slide out to take the defensive tackle and defensive end, which are typically bigger players than a linebacker. The backer on the inside shade of the guard is left unblocked to freely shoot the A gap.
Notice where running back Max Borghi’s eyes are even before the snap. He knows exactly what his blocking responsibility will be.
The result is a picture perfect, clean pocket.
Wazzu was getting national attention for having one of the best receiver corps in college football before the season. A lot of that had to do with depth and the fact they were returning, more than the individual talent at each position. While blowing out NMSU is not going to garner too much attention, the collective performance of the wide receiver corps likely turned some heads.
This crew is nasty. Fisher has a top-end speed that has to be respected by anyone. Patmon has not only gotten faster but ramped up his physicality — he sought out contact with the secondary and finished runs hard when he wasn’t sprinting past them. We highlighted those two this week but there’s a handful of other names we could talk about that all had great games.
I mean, Travell Harris can do this now.
Having an offensive scheme that creates space is one thing, but having eight receivers that are legit home run threats from any spot on the field is quite another. This could be the most explosive offense we’ve seen on the Palouse under Mike Leach, and the next two defenses they face aren’t going to be able to do much to disprove that.