Cougs may shrink offensive playbook vs. Cal

JIM MASTRO

SPOKANE -- If you're going to run Mike Leach's offense, you have to pull the trigger. And that, Washington State running backs coach Jim Mastro told Monday's gathering at the weekly Cougar Club Luncheon, is where the unit is struggling.

They're hesitating when they should be firing.

"We're letting the defense dictate to us and we can't do that," he explained. "We're still thinking. We're still looking to see what the defense is going to do instead of just triggering our own offense and dictating to them."

The Washington State defense and special teams units are there now and Mastro praised both.

He ran film from Saturday's game at Oregon State that showed outstanding plays by senior Travis Long, the hybrid defensive end/linebacker who played more inside linebacker to create match-up problems for the Beavers' offense. Mastro also showed plays where the defense fired off the line to swarm the quarterback, and highlighted interceptions by both Deone Bucannon and Casey Locker that were direct results of the defensive unit triggering as the unit was designed to trigger.

"They get it," he said. "They're firing off the ball and they're doing exactly what they're supposed to."

He also praised kicker Andrew Furney, whom he called "one of our best leaders on the team."

"Our defense played probably their best game (against Oregon State)," he said. "You watch them and they're triggering. They get what they're supposed to do. They get it. The offense is still a little behind in that."

Mastro even put a number on the problem.

"Out of 56 offensive plays, we triggered on 37 of them," he said. "You have to do way better than that. You have to come up to that line and say ‘set, hut' and go. In this game, we got to the line, we said ‘set, hut' and Oregon State shifted. We watched them shift and we didn't. You can't do that."

It comes down to the fact that the Cougars' offense still is thinking its way through its reads and assignments instead of simply reacting.

In clock-oriented time, it's not so long. But in football tempo terms, it's like a musician being behind the beat instead of on the beat -- and when it comes to execution, it means the difference between success and failure.

Mastro, a graduate assistant together with Leach at Cal-Poly San Louis Obispo, said the Cougs will likely cut down the number of offensive plays for this week's game with Cal.
,br> "Normally we run the same 16 plays," he said. "This week we may cut that down to 10 and make sure we run those 10 plays flawlessly."

Any concern that cutting out almost 40 percent of the offensive playbook will hurt was eased a moment later, when he talked about the staff watching a tape of the West Virginia-Texas game. The Mountaineers are coached by Dana Holgorsen, a former assistant and offensive coordinator for Leach at Texas Tech.

"I don't know if you watch games like that, but when you see teams like West Virginia and Baylor -- they're running the exact same offense we're running here, only they're running it better and with much better players," Mastro said. "In that game, West Virginia only ran seven (different) plays and they scored 56 points."

Seven plays. Fifty-six points.

Mastro acknowledged questions about the WSU offensive line, but was quick to point out contributing factors to the team's offensive woes.

"You have to block and the thing we'll be talking about this week in practice is sustaining -- we have to sustain those blocks," he said. "But it's not just the line. The quarterback has to get rid of the ball, the running back has to get up into the hole. It's a series of things right now."

Mastro was emphatic: it's all going to come together, and when it does, watch out.

"We're building this program for the long haul," he said. "Mike Leach is happy to be here and when he retires, he's going to retire as a Cougar. I'm here for good. I have a 30-year mortgage and a one-year contract, so that tells you I'm here for good.

"And there's a simple reason for it. The people here, simply put, get it. Mike Leach knows who's he's answerable to: (athletic director) Bill Moos, and the president of the university. When he was hired, he sat down with Bill and they talked for seven hours. At other schools, you talk to committees and all kinds of people. At WSU, they all get it."

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