Four bowls offer peek at new Cougar O

COUGAR FANS WILL want to mark the following dates on their calendars -- Dec. 29, Jan. 2 and Jan. 4. Of all the bowl games out there, four played on those dates will hold the most significance for fans of Washington State.

That's because Baylor, Oklahoma State, Houston and West Virginia all run a version of the Air Raid offense, and Cougar fans can get a preview of some of the things Mike Leach will be bringing to WSU.

Even better, in two of the four games, a Pac-12 defense will be matched against them.

Baylor plays UW on Dec. 29; Oklahoma State goes against Stanford, Houston meets Penn State, on Jan. 2 and West Virginia plays Clemson on Jan. 4.

THE AIR RAID offense was unmatched this season, with Baylor, OSU and Houston 1-2-3 in total offense nationally, and in the top six nationally in scoring offense. West Virginia was No. 17 in the nation in total offense, 20th in scoring offense.

In the offense, a pass often takes the place of a run. The running back generally doesn't stay home in max protect and is sent out into the pattern and is a key cog in the passing game.

That might lead some to believe the number of sacks will go up but that usually isn't the case and it's because the line utilizes such wide splits, sometimes up to 4 ½ feet -- the defenders have to cover that much more ground before they can get to the QB.

ONE OF THE staples of an Air Raid offense is the shallow cross. There are several variations off it but at its most basic, the primary target is the shallow cross receiver who runs a yard deep, and no more than three, sprinting across the field. The RB checks into the flat, while the dig receiver runs appx. a 10 yard pattern, sitting down against the zone, running through if it's man coverage. There are also two outside receivers who run verticals.

There are several variations of the play, including a trips version that cuts down on the field and attacks more precisely. Other staples of the Air Raid offense include the Mesh, 4 Verticals and Wide Receiver Screen.

The 4 Verticals pattern is what it sounds like but it can also often result a huge play for the running back. For the defense to adeptly cover all four vertical routes, the underneath is exposed. And the QB has the option of getting the ball to a running back out in the flat and in space.

With weeks to prepare, how Stanford and UW defend against these and other nuances of the Air Raid offense will be intriguing indeed.

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