PULLMAN – Mike Leach’s quarterbacks must be intelligent. They must throw a football accurately, a requirement more important than arm strength or size. And they must command the offense in a way that almost qualifies them as a second coach.
What they don’t have to do, however, is something several other Pac-12 teams are trying to do more so than ever: play fast, fast, fast, no matter what.
“Some guys operate a little quicker than others. It just sort of depends. It’s kind of on them,” Leach said. “We’ve always no-huddled quite a lot and just sub at the line of scrimmage and signal it in. Some just naturally operate different than others. Some are slow, some are quick. I don’t care. I like kind of crisp and quick a little better, but some of them, if they kind of a look it over and think about it, I don’t mess with them too much.”
Tempo is the discussion topic du jour in the Pac-12 this season, and for good reason. It’s not just Oregon trying to push the pace anymore. With Todd Graham at Arizona State, Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone at UCLA, the conference received a sharp influx of go-go-go influence last season.
Even Washington, under traditional, pro-style coach Steve Sarkisian, is spreading things out a bit more and certainly trying to play faster. Through one game, it worked: the Huskies blitzed what some believe to be a quality Boise State team, 38-6, while racking up 592 yards of total offense and running 85 plays.
Sarkisian said the genesis of UW’s no-huddle, hurry-up offense was planted by Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin through conversation a couple years ago. Lacking desired depth at that time, Sarkisian didn’t think his team was ready for such a renaissance. Now, apparently, it is.
“I’ve always held onto some of his thoughts and reasoning as to why he did it,” Sarkisian said of his interaction with Sumlin.
Graham, whose mile-a-minute manner of speaking is fine competition for Rodriguez, his in-state coaching counterpart, nearly burst through the telephone during Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches’ call when asked about the philosophy of his team’s frenetic style.
“Our secretaries here believe in the no huddle,” Graham said, his way of illustrating the deep roots of the Sun Devils’ belief in fast. “I think there’s been a lot of trends and things that have gone in and out of vogue in football. … We believe whole-heartedly, top to bottom, in what we’re doing. It’s a program thing. It’s not an offense.”
It’s also not something Leach will likely ever preach. Yes, he prefers quickness to a slower style, which seems to be part of the reason he likes quarterback Connor Halliday, who Leach said is one of the faster signal-callers he’s coached.
While the Air Raid doesn’t huddle and tends to hurry to the line of scrimmage, it’s not a hurry-up offense. It just isn’t. Observers will see elements of tempo-pushing, typically at times when Leach feels the defense is on its heels and a quicker pace will benefit the Cougars. But that’s not the focal point.
So you won’t see Leach hollering about tempo, unless, as he said, the offense is moving “ridiculously slow.”
“Some guys will take themselves out of plays because they hurry faster than they can really operate,” Leach said of the growing tempo craze, but “I think it’s fine. I also think it’s a little bit of a gimmick. I think some will keep it. Some, it will fade. Ours has been the same.”
Around the league
Assessing the aftermath of Oregon State’s 49-46 home loss to Eastern Washington, coach Mike Riley said the Beavers will have to rely on their team leaders to rally and get their season back on track. … After a 1-11 finish resulted in the firing of coach Jon Embree, Colorado finally has something to feel good about: a 41-27 win over rival Colorado State in its opener. “To see the joy on (players’) faces and how hard they’ve been working, it was a great win for them and our program,” said first-year coach Mike MacIntyre. But it was just one.” … UCLA coach Jim Mora said LB Myles Jack, a native of Bellevue, Wash., is “one of the most explosive athletes I’ve been around.”