PULLMAN – Steve Spurrier Jr. spent an entire year at Duke in the mid-1990s trying to crack Craig Bohl’s defense, so if anyone knows what Washington State’s offense is up against this Saturday in the season opener at Wyoming, the Cougars’ outside receivers coach might be able to lend a hint.
Spurrier was a senior wide receiver at Duke in 1994 when the Blue Devils hired Bohl – then just 13 years deep into his coaching career – as their defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Between August and December, Spurrier saw Bohl’s defense nearly every day on the practice field and pitied anybody who had to face it on Saturday.
“Our defense there was really good,” Spurrier said Sunday following a WSU practice in Pullman. “We opened up that year 7-0, ended up playing in a bowl game that year. … That was a pretty strong group, but our defense played really well and (Bohl) was a big part of that.”
Duke’s defense gave up 23 points per game that year, conceding just 14 per game during the unbeaten streak. And 24 year later, it’s clear Bohl, now Wyoming’s head coach, hasn’t lost his touch.
In Wyoming’s season opener last Saturday against New Mexico State, the Cowboys played a suffocating brand of defense that kept the Aggies from getting a first down until 20 seconds remained in the first half. In a 29-7 win, Wyoming held NMSU to 20 yards of offense in the first half and the Aggies finished with a negative sign (minus-9 yards) in the rushing column.
Certainly not a bad way to grab your next opponent’s attention.
“They’re good. He’s a good coach. Very sharp,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “… He’s had success everywhere he’s been and I think it’s just his attention to detail and the fundamentals, really. Just over the years, you have the coaches gatherings and meet each other at conventions and stuff. He’s a guy that I always wanted to meet and played against him when he was at Nebraska.”
Leach was in the first year of his rebuild at Texas Tech and still installing the Air Raid offense, when Bohl, a first-year defensive coordinator at Nebraska, guided the top-ranked Cornhuskers to a near-shutout of the Red Raiders. Handing Tech the biggest loss in program history to that point, Nebraska intercepted quarterback Kliff Kingsbury twice and held the Red Raiders to 11 yards on the ground en route to a 59-3 win.
Tech was more competitive the next year, losing to the Huskers 41-31.
“We didn’t really know each other then,” Leach said, “but I’ve always admired what he’s done.”
Bohl is more familiar with another WSU coach, though, stating Monday he knows defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys “very well.” The two coached in neighboring states from 2011-13, while Claeys was the DC at Minnesota and Bohl the head coach at North Dakota State, and their teams played each once during that span. During the 2011 season, Bohl’s FCS Bison edged Claeys’ Big Ten Gophers 34-27.
“Our offense and defense shared ideas and stuff like that when he was at North Dakota State,” Claeys said, predicting that Bohl’s group “will be prepared, they’ll play hard, they’ll be good on defense. So there won’t be a lot of room to give up a lot of points.”
Claeys and Bohl also crossed paths on the FCS trail while Claeys was the DC at Southern Illinois. The 20th-ranked Bison visited the 11th-ranked Salukis near the end of the 2005 season in a game that perfectly displayed the defensive acumen of both coaches. Just one touchdown was scored in a 9-0 SIU win.
“A great game,” Claeys said.
And maybe another reminder what the Cougars are up against this Saturday.
“They don’t beat themselves,” Claeys said. “They take care of the ball and all the different formations they do, they make you work for it on defense.”
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