WSU RB coach big fan of Air Raid, defense too

SPOKANE -- Asking the running backs coach at Washington State to comment on the proficiency of Mike Leach's Air Raid offense is a little like asking the fisherman who keeps getting skunked; "Where are they hidin'?" But Jim Mastro handled the assignment at Monday's Cougar Club luncheon in Spokane with all the passion of a college football coach coming off back-to-back wins.

"I've now worked with the best running offense in the country -- the Pistol that Chris Ault designed at Nevada, and now the best passing offense in the country -- here," Mastro said. "We don't run the ball a whole lot. We run just enough to keep you honest."

And Mastro talked with relish about a portfolio of touchdown passes the Cougars' offense generated in their 48-10 win over Southern Utah in the home opener Saturday.

He explained the QB reads and pointed out just how well Connor Halliday threw the ball on the 43-yard touchdown pass TO Dom Williams barely two minutes into the game, and again on the 55-yard bomb the pair combined on in the second quarter.

On both plays, Mastro said, the defensive back's positioning meant Halliday needed to put "a lot of air" on the throw to give Williams room to gain separation on the defender and run under the pass.

He was just as effusive in praising the 10-yard pass Halliday to Isiah Myers for a first-quarter touchdown. On that play, Mastro said the coaching staff's headsets all went dead at the same time, but Halliday made the correct call and fit his pass through the defense to find Myers across the middle. And on the TD pass to Vince Mayle, Mastro pointed out the solid read by Halliday because of where the Southern Utah defender was positioned, necessitating a throw to Mayle's back shoulder.

Some of the coach's highest praise came while showing the defensive highlight of freshman cornerback Daquawn Brown's interception at midfield – an athletic, one-handed grab.

"That's the best one-handed interception I've seen. This kid is going to be something special. If you want to know how good this kid is, just ask him. He'll tell you," he quipped.

Mastro was just as enthusiastic about Damante Horton's 72-yard interception return for a touchdown – his second in two weeks. Horton returned a interception 70- yards for score in the Cougars' win at USC.

STILL, THE COACH seemed pleased to be asked about his work with the Cougar running backs, in particular the way Teondray Caldwell, Marcus Mason and Jeremiah Laufasa have handled opposing blitzes.

"You look at Carl Winston last year," Mastro said. "The reason we won that last game (Apple Cup) had a lot to do with the way he handled (Washington's blitzing) linebackers.

"We've faced quite a few blitzes this year, but you haven't heard that much about them because of the way our backs have handled them. They haven't gotten to the quarterback."

MASTRO ALSO COMMENTED ON the play of several Cougar freshmen.

"We haven't had to play that many freshmen this year – not like we had to do last year," he said. "And that's what you want to see. We have guys like Daquawn Brown and Riley Sorenson playing because we have to – they're too good and we need them.

"Riley Sorenson is going to play because there's no way we're going to get through a season with just five offensive linemen, so he's been playing and getting experience so he'll be ready when and if we need him to step in."

Redshirt freshman QB Austin Apodaca saw his first snaps as a collegian on Saturday and the Cougs also have true freshman quarterback Tyler Bruggman waiting in the wings. So how is Bruggman coming along?

"He's going to be pretty special," he said. "Let me put it this way -- the Cougars are going to be in very good hands at the quarterback position for the next four years."

THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE between now and a year ago, Mastro explained, is the Cougs' faith in themselves.

"They believe they can beat anyone now," Mastro said. "Last year it was like, ‘Oh, okay, well, maybe.' Now they believe. Our practices have a whole lot more intensity now for that reason."

MASTRO WAS ALSO asked about the differences between Ault and Mike Leach.

"The interesting thing is how much they're alike," he said. "Their approach to the game is alike. There are no gray areas for either of them. And for a(n) (assistant) coach, they're great coaches to work for. If you do your job right, you never hear from them.

"I have to tell you, Mike Leach loves it in Pullman. He hates to leave and go home. He has the process in place -- it's going to get there."

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