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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WSU could be going under center more this season

PULLMAN – If you happen to find yourself among the small but growing band of looky-loos that linger in the Martin Stadium stands to watch the Washington State football team go about its drills, you will observe a brief period when the Cougars practice their handoffs. Luke Falk crouches behind center Riley Sorenson, who places the ball between his legs and firmly into Falk’s grasp in a quick continuous motion. The maneuver could not be more fundamental, or more mundane. Except, for the Cougars, it’s practically revolutionary. Every time Washington State abandoned the shotgun formation and had its quarterback lined up behind center in 2014, the Cougars scored a touchdown. Of course, there’s a caveat: The Cougars only did it once, a quarterback sneak against Arizona State that was easy to miss as the first score in a 52-31 loss. Early indications in spring practice, however, are that it will be hard for frequent watchers of Cougar football to not notice the quarterback lining up under center, which Mike Leach says could happen as much as one-quarter of the time. “I think these quarterbacks are more inclined in that direction,” Leach said. “Just one of the idiosyncrasies with Connor (Halliday), he’s more of a (shot)gun guy, and we’ll always be a gun team, anyway, so that’ll always be a bigger part of it. It won’t be just sneaks and dives, either. Leach spoke about how he intends the new formations to be used for vertical passing plays, sweeps by the running backs and receivers and play-action passes. “It lends itself to a couple plays, you can get the ball off quicker on some things,” Leach said. “It’s something that we’ve kind of wanted to do for quite some time. Having a quarterback close to the line of scrimmage is not an entirely new look for the Air Raid coach, although the Cougars have been almost exclusively a shotgun team in his time at WSU. Leach’s quarterbacks did some work under center at Texas Tech, and when he arrived in Pullman he initially incorporated a bit of the run-heavy pistol offense, having hired one of its developers in running backs coach Jim Mastro. Now that Mastro has some downhill running backs to work with – sophomore Gerard Wicks, who is now 220 pounds, has had a particularly good spring – he suggested to Leach that the Cougars incorporate an under-center look to take advantage of their talents. Having a former Red Raiders quarterback on the coaching staff has helped, too. Graham Harrell, a Heisman Trophy candidate while playing for Leach in 2008, is technically the outside receivers coach. But he often spends the special-teams periods working with the quarterbacks and helping them with the offense’s finer points. He’s available to them after practice, too. “He’s always here,” said Falk, a film-room junkie himself. “He never leaves the building. I love it.” Besides getting the running back to the line of scrimmage faster, the formation also puts the center in a better position to contribute to run plays. “You’ve got to be a little more quick with it,” said Sorenson of the difference between the snaps. “You don’t have to be as precise, you just have to get it up to his hand and it gets you lower, so it’s easier to run block out of.” How much the Cougars end up playing behind center will ultimately depend on how much the quarterbacks like it, since they will often be the ones calling out the formation. The routes and plays won’t change, really, and it should be an easy transition since WSU is trying it out in part to play to Falk’s strengths as a quarterback. But as is the case with any philosophical shifts, there will have to be some adjustments and concessions. “Now, Riley, we’re going to have to get him to change his pants at halftime or something,” Falk divulged. “That guy sweats like none other.”
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