Make no mistake, when you play against a Mike Leach team, they are going to put the ball in the air. The Cougars are getting 381.4 yards per game with the pass, tops in the conference. But this year Washington State has added a new element to their offense: the run game.
"It’s really hard when they get that going, when they get that running game going." defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said on Tuesday. "You know, everybody tries to stop the pass, which opens up a lot of holes in the running game. It just creates a whole other animal for you to handle. It’s something that we’re very well aware of, what they’ve been able to do in the running game."
All four previous iterations of a Leach-coached Washington State finished dead last in the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game, and yards per carry. But in 2016, the rushing attack in Pullman is good for 4.97 yards per carry, 5th in the Pac-12.
In their route of Oregon two weeks ago, the Cougars ran the ball 40 times for 280 yards, killing Brady Hoke’s rush defense on 7.0 yards per carry. They even ran the ball 30 times against Stanford, while passing the ball 41 times. To contrast, against the Bruins a season ago, Leach only called 22 run plays, opting to pass 58 times.
Last year in the Rose Bowl, Josh Rosen, as a true freshman, lead a late fourth-quarter scoring drive to put UCLA ahead by three with just over a minute remaining. The comeback effort was dashed by a 21-yard touchdown pass from Luke Falk to Gabe Marks with only three seconds left on the game clock.
"I think Luke gets the whole thing started, the way he throws the ball and hangs in there," Bradley said. "We’re well aware of their skill people. I don’t think their line gets as much credit as they deserve. They do a great job pass protecting, the run blocking is solid. They’re doing a great job with all the little things, doing it well."
Bradley Moves to the Box
After the first two games against Texas A&M and UNLV, the Bruin defense vastly improved in their win at BYU, and has maintained a high level of play since. Now, you may assume that the success started because of the health of D-Line studs Eddie Vanderdoes and Takkarist McKinley, but something else changed in the game against BYU: Tom Bradley started calling the defense from the press box.
"I get a better look up there than I get down on the field right now," Bradley said of the transition.
A reporter noted that the move coincided with a drastic improvement in defensive play. I’m going to stick with the return of Takk and Eddie, but hey...
"If it helps I’ll go even higher up!" Bradley said.
KP Stands for Keeping Positive
Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu is keeping positive in the face of his unit’s anemic rush attack.
"It’s close," Polamalu said. "And they’re working towards it, and everybody’s grinding. I just don’t want them to press. I want them to enjoy it, and understand that the hole’s not always going to be there, and live and fight the next battle."
"We’re too good of backs, and too good of an O-line to be playing as we’re playing right now," running back Soso Jamabo said on Tuesday. "So we just gotta keep a level head, like I said, and just keep it moving forward, and just keep a positive mind set."
Polamalu wants his players to keep enjoying the process as they work through their struggles.
"I think you enjoy being a competitor, and that’s the main message," Polamalu said. "Things are not always going to go right in life, but you want to compete. Every day, you show up and compete with enthusiasm and energy."
Check out more from Kennedy Polamalu, Tom Bradley, and Soso Jamabo below. Videos are courtesy of Thuc Nhi Nguyen of the LA Daily News.
OC Kennedy Polamalu:
DC Tom Bradley:
RB Soso Jamabo: