UCLA faces it's third new coaching staff in a row this week, as they travel to Pullman to take on the Washington St. Cougars led by Mike Leach. Leach was on the short list of a lot of coaching searches this offseason, including UCLA's, but he ended up taking over for Paul Wulff and taking his famous air-raid offense to the northwest.
The results thus far have been much worse than most expected. Washington St. is 2-7, including 0-6 in conference, with the only two wins against FBS Eastern Washington by a score of 24-20, and 2-8 UNLV by a score of 35-27. Leach's high-flying offense has yet to take off in Pullman. Yes, the Cougars do pass for over 300 ypg, but they are 115th in scoring offense, last in rushing offense with only 29 ypg, and 100th in total offense with just over 350 ypg. This is somewhat of a surprise given the fact that Washington St. was quite dynamic offensively last season and managed to pass for over 300 ypg and rush for over 100 ypg.
Washington St. is also struggling defensively. They give up nearly 32 ppg, which is 93rd in the country, allow 437 ypg, which is also 93rd in the country, allow 172 ypg on the ground, good for 78th in country, and 265 ypg through the air, which is 104th.
Prior to this season, Mike Leach had never coached a team to a sub-.500 record. In his 10 seasons at Texas Tech, he had a career record of 84-43, and was known for his unconventional, exciting brand of football. However, people tend to forget that he inherited a team that went 6-5 in 1999 and went 7-6 and 7-5 in 2000 and 2001. Things take time. Washington St. was 4-8 last season, but 2-10 in 2010, 1-11 in 2009, and 2-10 in 2008. Whether Leach will turn the Cougars around is unknown, but the people who thought they would be an instant Pac-12 championship competitor were delusional.
As much as the words get thrown around, there is no doubt that Washington St. is going through a culture change. Leach is literally throwing his players out, and he may have already lost this year's locker room. Leach may be an oddball, but he runs things his way he will put his stamp on this program. The growing pains have been difficult, but obviously the way things were going weren't any better.
Defensively, the Cougars are coordinated by Mike Breske, who also coaches the defensive backs. Breske has been coaching defenses at the FCS level for a very long time, and his only stint at the FBS level prior to this season was a term with the University of Wyoming from 2003-08.
As noted above, the results on both sides of the ball have been pretty awful. The only thing the Cougars are doing well is passing, where they're averaging roughly 325 ypg, good for 11th in the country. However, they average more passing yards per game than they've rushed for the entire season- 262! For comparison sake, UCLA is averaging 226 ypg, or only 40 yards less than Washington St. has gained all season. Jim Mastro is coaching the running backs at Washington St., the same Jim Mastro that coached a strong UCLA running game last year under Rick Neuheisel, but a team cannot succeed averaging 1.46 yards per carry.
Despite the poor numbers, Washington St. is not exactly a pushover. The Cougars played Oregon tough before losing 26-51, and took Stanford down to the wire on the road before falling 17-24. I will be interesting to see how the team reacts following Leach's postgame statements following the loss to Utah last week, but this is a team capable of playing well. If nothing else, they have managed to keep games ugly, and UCLA will have to play with some fire in Pullman to beat this team.
That concludes Part 1 of the Washington St. Cougar preview. Feel free to fire away with any additional thoughts and comments, and be sure to check back in tomorrow for Part 2 of the preview.