PULLMAN – Washington State coach Jake Dickert declined to call it the “Air Raid.”
The Cougars’ offense next year will be something new to Pullmanites.
“It’s gonna be more like the ‘Coug Raid,’ ” Dickert said during a news conference Thursday. “We’re gonna do it our own way.”
Run-pass options will be part of the formula, and Cougars tailbacks might tally somewhere around 25 carries per game in 2022 under first-year offensive coordinator Eric Morris.
WSU plans to introduce versatile H-backs – skill players comparable to tight ends, who can lead-block on one play and run receiving routes on the next.
There’ll be a steady use of play actions and bootlegs.
In other words, the Cougars’ latest offensive system won’t be one-dimensional.
“It’s going to be our version of (the Air Raid),” Dickert said. “I think it’s going to be very multiple. That was something we were really looking for throughout this process: Air Raid pass principles, but way more our own version of exactly what we want to be.
“There’s only one person in this world still continuing to do the true Air Raid.”
WSU made Morris’ previously reported hiring official Wednesday evening.
A Mike Leach disciple and former Cougars assistant, Morris most recently led a rebuild of the FCS program at Incarnate Word, where he installed a unique brand of the offense Leach popularized at Texas Tech and WSU.
Morris will also mentor WSU’s quarterbacks.
“First and foremost, I think it’s really important to get another head coach in here,” Dickert said. “I think he’s one of the bright offensive minds in football today, and I think our offense is going to be able to show that.
“He’s going to be able to adapt and use our pieces. Like I’ve always said, ‘Players over plays.’ ”
The “Coug Raid” centers on quarterback Jayden de Laura, the sophomore from Hawaii who emerged this season as one of the Pac-12’s top signal-callers.
Dickert tabbed it an “NFL-style offense,” featuring a diverse range of play calls.
“There will just be more variety that I think can really fit Jayden’s game and where he can take his game to the next level, because I know he’s got high aspirations,” Dickert said. “Morris has coached a lot of guys that are still playing in the league today (including Kansas City Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes).
“I think this offense can really fit his skill set, but also be multiple in how we can attack people.”
Across Dickert’s five games as acting coach this year, WSU struck a run-pass balance of about 50/50. Morris’ Incarnate Word team ran the ball on about 40% of its snaps this season, with tailbacks Kevin Brown and Marcus Cooper combining for 1,536 yards and 20 touchdowns on 249 attempts.
By comparison, WSU’s Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh totaled 1,412 yards and 15 TDs on 271 carries this season. The tandem’s usage increased down the stretch.
“Running the ball is at the heart of everything an offense needs to be about, because I think it establishes the pass game, it establishes a mentality of toughness and physicality,” Dickert said. “If we need to throw it for 350 (yards) to win, good – we can do it. If we need to run it for 350 because we’re getting a light box, I think we can do it. It gives us an ability to be very well-rounded.
“I have the belief that we’re going to keep our explosive offense here on the Palouse.”
Dickert’s duties as defensive coordinator will pass to Brian Ward after the Cougars (7-5) meet Miami (7-5) on Dec. 31 in El Paso, Texas, at the Sun Bowl.
WSU announced Ward’s hiring Wednesday.
“When I was able to get this position, there was really one guy I was going to call, and it was Brian Ward,” said Dickert, a defensive-minded coach throughout his career and a Division I DC over the past three seasons. He now intends to serve as a “true head coach” and provide input on both sides of the ball.
“It’ll be a bit of a learning experience on the offensive side. But it’s about technique, it’s about fundamentals. That’s the stuff I’m really going to pour into our guys on a daily basis, and leave some of the bigger scheme pictures to the coaches.”
Nevada’s DC for the past two years, Ward worked alongside Dickert at North Dakota State in 2010. Both of their defensive strategies stem from their time at NDSU, Dickert said, crediting former Bisons coach Craig Bohl – now the eighth-year boss at Wyoming – for influencing their styles.
Since Ward and Dickert share ideologies, WSU’s defense won’t see major adjustments going into next season. The Cougars fielded a resurgent unit that finished the regular season tied for fourth nationally with 27 takeaways.
So why implement a fresh set of formations and tactics when a recipe for success has already been put in place?
“I think they run the same defense, so it won’t be too much of a change,” junior edge Brennan Jackson said. “Maybe some different terminology here and there, but besides that, I think it’ll be very much similar.
“(Ward) reminds me a lot of coach Dickert.”
Ward will also take over as Cougars linebackers coach. Dickert had worked in that role since early 2020.
“He’s a great mentor, he’s a great man, he’s a great developer of people, and his Xs and Os acumen is really smart,” Dickert said of Ward. “Just excited to bring him into our program and really build off of what we started here the past couple years.
“He knows the language and he’s getting to know our guys. I think he’s the exact fit for what I was looking for to lead our defense well into the future.”
Morris and Ward arrived in Pullman recently. They’ve been observing practice sessions and meeting with players, but won’t assume their new roles until after the Sun Bowl.
The Cougars are also hiring veteran Wyoming assistant Pete Kaligis to oversee their defensive tackles and bringing back Clay McGuire – WSU’s offensive line coach from 2012-17. WSU’s incoming coaches have spent a fair amount of time on the road recruiting, too, Dickert said.
The program is “vetting” other potential staffers, according to Dickert. Conversations are ongoing, and WSU won’t likely settle on any additional hires until after Wednesday’s signing day.
A few of WSU’s current assistants, including offensive coordinator Brian Smith, are presumed to be coaching their final games for the program at the Sun Bowl. Dickert expects the Cougars to play in the postseason under the same staff that helped the team to three wins over its last five games after a midseason coaching shakeup.
“We’re going to be extremely professional as we go through this last phase of it,” he said. “We’re going to finish 2021 the way we need to for our seniors and our program. We’re going down there to really compete in the bowl game.”
Sun Bowl opt outs?
It’s become a common practice in college football: pro-bound players electing not to participate in postseason games in order to avoid possible injuries and prepare for the NFL draft process.
Without specifying who, Dickert indicated there’s a chance some WSU players opt out of the Sun Bowl.
“Right now, we’re just in conversations,” he said. “We’re out there getting ready to finish some finals, getting back out on the field and getting some good ‘young guy’ work in. Those conversations will continue to happen as we go through our bowl preparation.”
Grad student slotback Calvin Jackson Jr. confirmed during Thursday’s media session that he’ll play in El Paso.
Traveling to El Paso
There’s intrigue surrounding this year’s Sun Bowl, considering WSU’s memorable season and Miami’s coaching change this week.
But getting to El Paso to watch it unfold in person will be a hurdle for fans.
Prices for flights to the west Texas city out of Washington state have topped $1,000. Cougars supporters have been vocal online about the travel challenge.
“We just have to be realistic about what flight costs are,” athletic director Pat Chun said during a news conference Sunday. “We saw those – we looked those up, too. There’s nothing we can do to control that. But we also have people in the southwest part of the country that hopefully are motivated to go support the Cougs in El Paso.”
Chun said WSU has a $300,000 ticket allotment for the Sun Bowl. If the crimson-clad enthusiasts can’t buy up the tickets, he assumes the difference will come out of the $2.3 million that the Pac-12 receives from the Sun Bowl (before expenses).
The Pac-12 pools together bowl revenue from its postseason-qualifying member schools and splits it between conference programs and the conference office.
WSU and Miami squared off in the snowy 2015 edition of the Sun Bowl. Forecasts in El Paso for December don’t call for wintry weather. Temperatures are predicted to reach the high 50s on game day.
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.