The cut back

WASHINGTON STATE HEADED INTO the Apple Cup has not enjoyed a whole lot of success on the ground. The Huskies in their last two games have stopped UCLA and Cal cold, first through the air and then on the ground. But closer examination reveals a big opportunity on the table for Washington State.

Whether it's scheme or player inexperience, the UW defense generally hasn't accounted for the cutback.

And that's surprising.

Typically in a defensive scheme, there's a backside OLB -- or potentially a backside safety, or even in some cases a defensive end -- who has cutback responsibilities.

The player has to stay to the backside of the play, he cannot get farther across the field than the B gap (the second gap outside the center) Put another way, in most every defensive scheme, you always want to keep a defender for the cutback lane, typically around the B gap, and to stay home on the back door for reverses and more.

But the film doesn't lie, and the UW generally just doesn't have guys there.

It's a big part of why earlier this season, when opponents had their way against the Huskies, the tackles were made by third level players. But UW hasn't been allowing much of anything the last two games. So how is that?

Mostly, with run pressures, weakside. Basically, they're blitzing into a run.

You can do that if a team has a particular tendency to run weakside.

Or, as has been the case the last two weeks with UCLA and Cal, you can do it if the opposing team is simply incompetent in the passing game.

Don't be fooled, the UW is still strongside balanced, and they still have a hat on a hat. But not accounting for the cutback lane means a passing team, and a running QB, could inflict some serious damage.

The UW defense has to be concerned about Tuel's throwing. But if Tuel throws well enough to loosen up the defense, and then he runs after the pass has been established, look out. That's when the WSU running backs, who have found success few and far between all season, could hit the cutback and ramble downfield like they haven't all year.

Defenses generally don't assign a player to a QB, they assign gaps. If, on rare occasion, they do assign a player to a QB, that defense has to be solid enough to take up the slack, and to ably fill in the holes that creates. And a defense can't defend everything.

Washington State may well look to pass to set up the run. And if that happens, that cutback lane, it figures to be open.

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