PULLMAN – With 16 days between games, the Washington State football team will have had plenty of time to prepare for Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez’s famed spread offense when the teams meet on Saturday. The problem for WSU is the Wildcats alter their offense so often that even 12 weeks into the season the Cougars can’t know what to expect.
When the season began, it appeared the Wildcats were going to play an old-fashioned style of football. Quarterback B.J. Denker attempted just 13 passes in the first game of the season and only 21 in the second.
Arizona was a grinding team that ran the ball on first, second and third downs. But since then the Wildcats have transformed into a more pass-happy outfit which combined to throw the ball 103 times for over 700 yards in its last three contests.
“I think the quarterback, he hadn’t started or played much early in the season so they were being careful, using the running game,” WSU linebackers coach Ken Wilson said. “As he’s matured and gotten better they’ve gone to a more balanced attack.”
Such a change is characteristic of Rodriguez’s offenses, which routinely change their approach. While some offensive coaches are known for their insistence on running the ball and others for their propensity to put the ball in the air, the Wildcats’ coach is famous simply for productive offenses by whatever means necessary.
“When we first did this offense 20 years ago or more it was more throw than run and it’s kind of evolved to doing both,” Rodriguez said. “It really depends on the skill players we have or what we have in the program.”
This year the primary skill player is running back Ka’Deem Carey, whose play has driven an offense designed on getting the ball in his hands. Carey ranks second in the country with 152 rushing yards per game, yet another change for a coach whose quarterbacks are often his most dangerous runners.
“At Michigan and West Virginia it was a little bit different with Pat White and Denard Robinson. (Designing the offense) usually starts with the skillset of the quarterbacks you have, then it also highlights the receivers and running backs,” Rodriguez explained. “A guy like Ka’Deem you want to get him the ball but Ka’Deem’s good enough no matter what you’d run he’d be productive.”
The Cougars will also contend with a unique challenge in facing Denker, who has proven adept at both running and throwing. What sets the 6-foot-3, 184-pound quarterback apart from the rest of the conference is his being left-handed, which results in many of UA’s offensive plays being mirror images of what teams typically run.
“A lot of the rollouts and sprint outs at times, the stuff goes in the opposite direction,” Wilson said. “Not that they can’t go both ways but it’s a bit more often to the other side of the field. And as you play more games you get used to moving in a certain direction so while you don’t change anything it is a little bit different for the other guys.”
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