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‘Shovel pass’ a useful tool in Mike Leach’s offense, as long as QB can perform it

Sept. 4, 2017 Updated Mon., Sept. 4, 2017 at 6:07 p.m.

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk (4) listens to coach Mike Leach during the first half against Montana State on Saturday. Falk has demonstrated a mastery of the relatively simple shovel pass, but not all of the coach’s quarterbacks have. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk (4) listens to coach Mike Leach during the first half against Montana State on Saturday. Falk has demonstrated a mastery of the relatively simple shovel pass, but not all of the coach’s quarterbacks have. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – By now, there aren’t many pages of Washington State’s offensive playbook that senior quarterback Luke Falk hasn’t mastered. There’s few offenses he can’t read and few throws he can’t make.

He certainly knows the shovel pass.

In a 31-0 rout of Montana State Saturday night, the Cougars signal-caller was surgical in how he used the shovel, or shuttle, flipping the ball to one of his safety valves – it was mostly James Williams in the season opener – whenever he could sense the defense was on its heels.

Falk makes it look effortless and really, the motion is about as simple as it seems. So simple even an out-of-practice vet like Mike Leach could probably execute it without too much difficulty, right?

“(It) would be embarrassing if I couldn’t do this,” the WSU coach said Monday during his weekly press conference. “And I’ve always been able to do this.”

But Leach, and this still boggles his mind, has had quarterbacks who just can’t figure out the shovel. Two of his signal-callers at Texas Tech especially struggled, and struggled to the point that Leach decided it would be more time efficient to scrap it completely, then continue to drill something that just wasn’t being learned.

“I had one quarterback at Tech, and I don’t know, he didn’t have that little of hands or whatever, but then there’s the ball and it’s going to be this weird basketball pass to the point where you can’t go like this,” Leach said, motioning with both of his hands behind a podium in the interview room of WSU’s football complex. “And just the whole spastic motion in and of itself was both entertaining and disgusting to see on film. Then I had another quarterback who followed that guy all the time and he did it the same way.”

Before he retired the shovel in Lubbock, Leach did go to some impressive lengths to teach it – lengths he surely hasn’t needed to take with Falk, whose first shovel pass on Saturday was a savvy dump-off to Williams that turned into an 11-yard touchdown.

“We had the chalkboard on the wall, drew a circle, you know ‘get it in the circle,’” Leach said. “So that was the beginning of the end.”

Leach demonstrated what an shovel looks like for media members who attended Monday afternoon. Out of town reporters listening via teleconference missed a tutorial that was equal parts informative and entertaining.

Leach first took a two-step drop behind the podium, then tucked a Dasani water bottle into his hands and explained, “It’s got to be your off-hand. So you go like this, ‘Look everybody I’m passing the ball.’” Then Leach performed a few dry runs, extending his arm out before flicking his wrist. “And then at the last second – and this is key – you turn your thumb down,” Leach said. The demo finished with the coach flinging his empty bottle into the row of chairs in front of the podium.

“It’s working good for us now,” said Leach, who used it at Iowa Wesleyan, Valdosta State, Kentucky and Oklahoma before introducing at Tech and subsequently parting ways with it. “I don’t think it’s an every time deal. Basically what it amounts to is a draw.”

A routine play – well, for most.

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