ON TUESDAY AFTERNOON, when the Cougs hold their third spring practice, Mike Leach will begin installing the final one-third of his offense, although with the caveat that "all" is a relative term and there's always room for improvement. But still. Two-thirds of Leach's high powered Air Raid offense is already installed and the Cougs haven't even put the pads on yet?
Leach said after the second practice he probably wouldn't be able to get the offense fully installed after three practices. Nope. It would probably take four
practices to do it.
"After four practices, I think it's (going to be) a pretty complete once over. And then there's going to be a lot of holes. And we'll plug the holes," he said.
The rapid implementation just one more thing that sets Leach
apart. Cougar fans have been using gallows humor to refer to the past few years regarding how much of the playbook was put in -- it seemed the offense never got around to being fully installed. But similar situations can be found all over the college football landscape.
At Ohio State under new coach Urban Meyer
, the Buckeyes "hope" they get everything they want into the offense by the end of spring drills, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Ohio State's new offensive coordinator Tom Herman said the offense is fluid, so he does not ever believe in saying 100 percent or 70 percent or 50 percent of the offense is "in." In other words, coachspeak for how he's not going to comment on how much they get in this spring lest it be perceived as a negative.
New Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze
is using his former school, Arkansas State, as his model. Freeze said he hoped to have about 50 percent of the offense installed at Ole Miss by the end of the spring session. "The first spring (at AS), it was really only about 50 percent (of the offense) that we really got in," Freeze said. "Because you want to get good and get the pace right."
At the end of fall camp last year, then first year Pitt coach Todd Graham
, (now at Arizona State) said he expected to be able to install for the season, realistically, only about 60-65 percent of the offense he used the previous year at Tulsa, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette archives.
Closer to home in the Pac-12, Colorado this past spring said they were able to get in only 30 percent of their offense under new first year coach Jon Embree
The first two practices have been long, close to three hours. Leach generally runs long practices in the spring, short practices at other times. In the spring, Leach says, it's not as if they need to save the players for a Saturday game. A 2 ½ or 3 hour practice isn't unusual in the spring for Leach, but his fall camp and in-season practices are shorter than just about everyone else's.
The tempo under Leach has been very swift and on both sides of the ball. And even just two practices in, it's clear to close observers that Leach has been tinkering with his Air Raid while he was away from the sideline. There are elements not only of the pistol but of the run and shoot, too.
The simplicity of Leach's offense doesn't mean the Cougs will be unprepared for exotic, complex defenses or schemes. Leach's offense has checks for every single defensive package the Cougs will face this year. And that's what it's about in a nutshell – Leach's offense incorporates adjustments to attack the holes. And there are always holes in any defense, and what has made Leach so successful is that he knows better than most where the holes are, and where they're going to be.
Defensively, Mike Breske is aggressive and likes to attack, too. Brekse wants turnovers, he coaches his troops to make big plays. Now, you're going to get beat at times doing that. But you're also going to come up big at times. One other thing to keep in mind, the defense is going to be in great shape physically, and the offense is going to be in outstanding shape. With all the vertical work, the wide receivers are probably going to be running something like 1,000 to 1,500 yards more in practice than your average team. And the better shape an athlete is in, the more injuries tend to decrease.
As everyone knows, the Cougs are going to go vertical this season under Leach. One question that has come up regarding verticals in concert with the wide splits – why don't defenses just shoot the gaps? Some teams will certainly try, but then Leach will simply bounce it outside. The beauty of the wide splits is multi-tiered. It forces the d-line and wide blitzers to cover more ground to try and apply pressure, and it tires defenses out because of that. But what it also does is expose the defense more. It lessens their ability to disguise their intentions, more so than when a line is bunched closer together. And those verticals? They clear out the linebackers and safeties. And then that opens up the middle and short areas. Just one more arrow in Leach's arsenal from which to attack from…
Leach's quips have been plentiful since he took over at WSU. Among his latest, likening the potential of TE Andrei Lintz (6-5, 255) in the Cougs' passing game to Simpsons character Mr. Burns telling loyal servant Waylon Smithers; "Release the hounds!"