PULLMAN – From the time I put out my first call for mailbag questions, I set the over/under at 60 minutes for how long it would take to get my first query about Pac-12 officiating.
Seeing as how it took the better part of two days, a credit to you all for moving on so quickly.
This Saturday, we’ll see if Mike Leach and the Cougars have, too.
Fortunately, it’ll be a different Bay Area team on the opposing sideline. In this week’s mailbag, we look back at a 33-20 loss to the Golden Bears and why a couple of Pac-12 teams pose bigger defensive problems to the Cougars than others. We also tackle Leach-to-Arkansas rumors, evaluate Anthony Gordon and spend a second or two on the officiating blunder heard round the conference.
Not sure anyone really knows the nuts and bolts here, but two programs have themselves dialed in on the “Air Raid.” Justin Wilcox and Jimmy Lake. Is it superior personnel? Familiarity with the scheme? I get the fact that good players will usually beat poor players, but WSU seems to cause other teams fits.
– Steve K.
You’re not going to get much out of Mike Leach when you bring these topics up. It was suggested to the WSU coach last week that the Cougars have struggled against Cal, to which he responded, “We’ve won more than they have.”
When Leach is pressed about losing to the Huskies, he usually points to their talent, rather than any schematic edge Lake and the defense have gained over the years. His point: why should it be surprising that a team like UW has constant success against a team it’s out-recruited for decades?
Of course, part of what’s made Leach such a hero in Pullman has been his ability to defeat teams the Cougars have no business beating. Four years in a row, they beat an Oregon team with far more four- and five-star prospects on the roster. Often, against teams that look much better on paper, Leach and his Air Raid have prevailed.
The beauty of Leach is his commitment to doing one thing, doing it better than everyone else and never wavering. But, as you allude to in your question, it also gets him in trouble twice a year. It’s good to be stubborn in this profession, but having the ability to adapt is important, too, and Leach has too much convinction in his system to change things up twice a year.
That doesn’t mean it still isn’t troublesome from a fan’s perspective.
Since Justin Wilcox took over at Cal, the Cougars have been held to these point totals: 3, 19, 20. Since Chris Petersen accepted the job at UW, the Huskies have kept WSU to these totals: 17, 13, 10, 17, 14, 15.
Another point Leach often makes: WSU isn’t an outlier here. The Golden Bears and Huskies stymie most of their Pac-12 opponents because they’re fundamentally sound, they’re well-coached, they don’t miss assignments and they don’t often whiff on tackles.
After 18 years, Leach’s offense has seen every defense conceivable – and he’s probably seen them each a dozen times. Every type of coverage, every front seven configuration and every blitz package.
The schemes Cal and UW throw at WSU might make the Cougars uncomfortable, but I imagine every other team in the conference would replicate them if they were so effective.
“I think it’s more so them being fundamentally sound,” wide receiver Renard Bell said. “Because we’ve seen pretty much any zone package you can throw at us, any man package you can throw at us. But them, they’re just really fundamentally sound. They’re where they’re supposed to be at all times, so that’s why I feel like we have problems with them.”
Anthony Gordon appears to be regressing and going way too often to his safety net Brandon Arconado. Any chance we see (Trey) Tinsley or Gage (Gubrud)? Still think we win our last three games and go bowling.
– Eddie M.
I’m not sure I totally agree with your first assertion and the short answer to the actual question is no, absolutely not. Gordon’s leading the country in passing, is still on pace to become just the 16th quarterback in college football history to throw for 5,000 yards and given the volume at which the Cougars throw it, has a fairly respectable touchdown-to-interception ratio (34-10).
The ratio is actually comparable to what Gardner Minshew posted last season (36-9) and with three or four games left, Gordon’s on track to surpass Minshew in yards, touchdowns and completion percentage.
From my vantage point, the offense was actually operating at its best Saturday when Gordon was using the short 10, 15-yard passes to Arconado and moving methodically, rather than trying to hit one-play home runs or checking down to Max Borghi, who didn’t have room to do much of anything against a stingy front seven. But Cal left the middle of the field open time and time again, and WSU took advantage. Arconado finished with 12 catches, 130 yards and one touchdown, and would’ve had a 13th grab, but a certain official decided to get himself on the stat sheet with a first-quarter PBU.
Arconado’s been the most consistent receiver on this team (in the conference?), and he has an uncanny ability to get open, plus he and Gordon have a unique rapport they formed through years of scrimmaging on Thursday night.
My advice? Take it easy on Gordon. He’s proven he belongs, and unlike Minshew or Luke Falk, there’s much more pressure on Gordon to be perfect and less room for error given how inept this defense has been.
During Falk’s senior season, the defense was giving up 25.8 points per game. In Minshew’s lone year, the Cougars allowed just 23.3. This season, they’re allowing 30.1 and 37.2 in Pac-12 play. I’m almost positive Falk and Minshew wouldn’t have been able to overcome that, either.
Favorite Cougar Gold recipe?
– Katie W.
I don’t cook enough as it is, let alone cook with Cougar Gold, to give you a firm answer here. But if I’m being totally honest, the only time I bought it, what didn’t go onto a cracker went straight from the wheel into my stomach.
I’m not ashamed, though. My first season on the beat, I recall seeing a USC writer from the Los Angeles Times snacking out of a paper bag during WSU’s upset of the Trojans. A veteran move if there ever was one.
If you aren’t afraid of the calorie attack, order a bowl of the Cougar Gold Lobster Mac and Cheese at Pullman staple Birch and Barley. It won’t disappoint. Neither will a classic cheeseburger smothered with the delicacy. You can get that just about anywhere you can get a cheeseburger on the Palouse, it seems.
With the Arkansas job opening up, I feel like that’s a better job fit for Mike Leach IF he wanted to make the jump to another program. What are your thoughts on that position availability and if you think it would make sense?
– Aaron H.
If we’re talking potential Leach destinations, Fayetteville seems like a much more viable option than Tallahassee does, and considering the state of the program, the expectations would be much more manageable as well.
The Razorbacks haven’t had double-digit wins since Bobby Petrino’s final season in 2011 and they’ve missed out on a bowl game since then. It took Leach 11 seasons to win 10-plus games at Texas Tech and seven to get there at WSU. He’s never coached anywhere with immediate pressure – which is what he’d face at FSU – and while Arkansas may eventually wish to compete with the SEC’s elite, those goals should be tabled for at least 4-5 years.
Another perk for Leach? Arkansas pulls about a third of its roster from Texas, where the coach still has strong recruiting ties, so his experience recruiting the Lone Star State itself – and those surrounding it – would be another reason to give Leach a serious look.
Something else I wouldn’t have considered was broached on the latest edition of the AP Top 25 College Football Podcast. Bruce Feldman, a reporter for Fox Sports and FS1, a national college football writer for The Athletic, and the man who co-authored Swing Your Sword with Leach made this point as he discussed the Arkansas vacancy with podcast host and AP writer Ralph Russo.
“What I would be curious about is, Leach almost always – and I’m not saying he hasn’t won any recruiting battles or guys on his staff haven’t won recruiting battles – but when you get four- and five-star guys and I’m not saying they’re all like this, but there’s a bunch who are like this … you get some entitlement,” Feldman said. “Mike Leach does not do well with that, or hasn’t in the past. I’d be curious how that would play out and how he’d deal with that. It’d be a fascinating experiment.”
First time, long time. Just wondering if the Cougars are ever going to get their 57 yards back? Thanks. I’ll hang up and listen.
– Vince from Spokane
What if they enforced the correct penalty on the opening kick of next year’s game against Cal?
Even better, one yard on each opening kick for the next 57 years.
Either way, I’d say the conference needs to get a “Grip on Officiating.” Heckuva name for a column, isn’t it?
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Cougs newsletter
Get the latest Cougs headlines delivered to your inbox as they happen.