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UCLA Football at Washington State Preview: Did the Cougars Make the Better Coaching Hire?

After five years, it looks like Washington State didn’t make such a bad decision hiring Mike Leach.

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NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

If I remember correctly, in 2011 when UCLA was looking for a head coach, Mike Leach was a name that was actually thrown around a bit, along with Tom Cable, Kevin Sumlin, Mike Bellotti, and others. Well, here we are five years later, and even though Washington State seemed to get the short end of the stick when they hired Leach, it doesn’t seem like such a bad decision now. Leach is apparently an incredibly interesting person with a tendency to birdwalk during conversations. But let’s look at Mike Leach, the coach.


Leach, the 2015 Pac-12 Co-Coach of the Year, is in his fifth season leading the Washington State Cougars football program and has guided the Cougars to two bowl appearances in his first four years, a first for a WSU head coach. They ended last season 9-4 (which included an upset of then No. 18 UCLA) after starting 2-2, and capped the season with a victory over Miami in the Sun Bowl. In 2015, WSU led the nation in passing at 389.5 yards per game, while also finishing second in the nation in red zone offense, converting 94.5% of their opportunities inside the 20-yard line. They have steadily climbed in the rankings this year, and after starting the season slow again, seem to be picking up speed with no intention of slowing down. Leach is one of the original proprietors of the "Air Raid" offense, with an emphasis on passing and fewer yards on the ground. What does that take? A solid offensive line, which Wazzu definitely has this year.

He has, of course, had his share of negative media attention. Recently, Leach blamed the local police for the legal troubles his players seem to have found themselves in as of late. And I’m sure many of you remember when he was at Texas Tech and put the wrong guy’s son in an equipment shed. He was suspended that year for Texas Tech’s bowl game and subsequently fired. I really wanted to find out what the Cougar players think of him, but I had a hard time finding that information. I was, however, able to find information about how he ripped his players to shreds after their 0-2 start. Whether the players respect him or not, it worked, because they’ve been 3-0 since. Leach talked about how the team wasn’t playing nearly tough enough, and apparently, they all agreed.

Defensive Coordinator Alex Grinch was hired last year, and the benefits of that hire are already obvious. The Washington State defense saw major improvement in 2015 under Grinch who was a Broyles Award Nominee (given to the nation's top assistant). The Cougars’ defensive unit allowed an average of 27.6 points per game (74th nationally), a marked improvement over 2014 which surrendered 38.6 ppg (114th). Grinch was largely responsible for a Sun Bowl victory over Miami when the Cougars surrendered just 14 points, forcing three fumbles (recovering one) and intercepting two passes. From there, the Cougars were set up for a productive 2016 season. They are now ranked 65th in total defense (UCLA is 25th), giving up an average of 399 yards per game.

Wazzu has no official offensive coordinator, with Leach calling all of the plays.

Special Teams

Redshirt Junior kicker Erik Powell is not off to a great start. He has attempted four field goals and made none of them this year, and sophomore punter Zach Charme has not added much to the kicking unit. He punted an average of 38 yards against Stanford, and only 22 yards against Oregon. Wide receiver Kyle Sweet is also on punting duties, with a similar average against Stanford of 32.5 yards. Kaleb Fossum is listed in the #1 spot for punt returns, with an average of 7.7 yards per return. Tavares Martin, Jr. has attempted seven kick returns so far this year for a total of 147 yards, including a 30-yard return versus Eastern Washington. On the whole, I’d say their special teams unit is not spectacular, but fortunately for the Cougars, they aren’t necessarily relying on these guys since their offense seems to be able to get the job done.

You’d be hard pressed to find someone that has anything positive to say about Saturday’s game. I’m sure we won’t know any definitive information about Rosen until the game starts because of Mora’s dedication to playing things close to the vest. I get why he does this, but if one more player inexplicably doesn’t show up to a game (ie., Bolu Olorunfunmi last weekend), I think more Bruin fans are going to jump ship. We’ll see what the Jim Mora Hot Seat Meter looks like after Saturday’s game.

Go Bruins.