SORENSEN: Analyzing Mike Breske

OVER THE YEARS, between my work as a radio analyst and TV sideline reporter, and as a regular fan in the stands, I've seen new Washington State defensive coordinator Mike Breske's troops in action roughly a dozen times at three different schools. I also had the chance two summers ago to watch him up-close at a football camp my son Cody was attending.

While I don't know Mike, I do feel like I have a pretty good read on him. So here's what I think Cougar fans can expect from their new main man on defense.

  • He's hard-nosed and intense. He swears and shouts and demands excellence in effort, technique and judgment.

  • He's aggressive. For instance, in cover 4, in which each DB is responsible for one of four vertical zones running the length of the field, he gives his guys wide latitude to jump routes if their homework tells them the time is right. You can get burned on this if not fully prepared, but the rewards can be huge. It speaks to his view that defense is more than stopping the opponent. He sees D as an opportunity to make plays that dictate momentum and put points on the board.

  • He's a thinker. He loves to come up with something special each week just for that opponent. Along those same lines, he makes great half-time adjustments. I've been at games where his defense came out in the second half doing an array of things they hadn't even sniffed at in the first half.

  • He's open minded. In his game-planning, he views the world as his personal laboratory. He doesn't pretend to have all the answers. So he seeks out information. Case in point: Before Montana played Sam Houston State in the FCS semi-finals last month, he went to Punky Warner for insights. Why? Because in his many years at Montana Tech, Warner had become a true expert in dissecting the triple-option offense that rival Carroll College has ridden to numerous national titles. Sam Houston State is a triple-option team.

    In many ways, I think Breske's approach to defense matches Mike's approach to offense, which is to attack from multiple formations. Where Leach gives his quarterbacks wide latitude, Breske gives his DBs wide latitude to read routes and jump coverages.

    This year Montana had three senior players on D who will have a chance to play in the NFL: All-American cornerback Trumaine Johnson will go between the second and fourth rounds; middle linebacker Caleb McSurdy, also an All-American, will likely go in the late rounds or as a free agent, as will d-lineman Bryan Waldhauser. Last year, DB Jimmy Wilson was drafted by Miami. That's four (4!) NFL-caliber players coming out of Montana's defense in two years. Remember now, this is an FCS school. There's natural athleticism at work, but also good coaching.

    With Breske leading the defense and Leach the offense, the Cougars have two very aggressive guys spearheading the charge on both sides. They will be hard to game-plan against and their half-time adjustments will make things lively.

    Not too many people outside the Rocky Mountain region know much about Breske. For a whole bunch of reasons, the biggest one being my first-hand observations of what he does and how he does it, I think he's a great hire for Ol' Wazzu.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Paul Sorensen played safety for the Cougars from 1980-81, earning first-team All-American honors as a senior. He later played in the NFL and USFL. From 1985-98 he was the color commentator on radio broadcasts of Cougar football. He has held a similar role on Eastern Washington University broadcasts over the last several years. Also a long-time assistant coach in the Greater Spokane League, he's been writing periodically for CF.C since 1999. His columns here are labeled SLAP! The acronym stands for Sorensen Looks At the Program. The word also aptly describes the way Paul played safety and the way he does color commentary: in-your-face, nothing held back.

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