CF.C Coach's Chalkboard with Robin Pflugrad

WHEN COUGFAN.COM ASKED ME to pen a weekly column this year, I didn’t take long to accept. I most assuredly will always have some Cougar blood running through my veins having spent five wonderful years coaching in Pullman. So let’s talk about the Nevada vs. Rutgers running attacks. Because I’ve heard some people talking about how similar they are. They’re not.

By the way, my articles will come from a coach’s perspective. Hopefully there will be one or two things that I can share that might be slightly different from what you read elsewhere. I will most likely have a few human interest comments along the way as well plus some unique coaching trivia and recruiting notes.

Nevada: Just what the Doctor ordered

br> Personally, I believe this is exactly the type of opponent the Cougars NEED to see on Friday. It is often said that college football teams make their greatest improvements between game one and two. I believe this to also be true of teams coached by Mike Leach.

I had the opportunity to hire Cougar defensive coordinator Mike Breske as our defensive coordinator when I became the head coach at Montana. For many reasons I believe Coach Breske will have the boys fired up and ready for battle at McKay stadium on Friday. Game plan thoughts for Coach Breske:

He knows Nevada's offense. We ran a similar type of offense when we were at Montana -- it was not exactly the Pistol, however it had many similar QB reads as does the Pistol. Mike had a plan against this type of offense every day for two years. Against Rutgers, Ralph Friedgen came out of retirement to call plays. This gave Rutgers a slight advantage over WSU and Breske not knowing exactly what type of offense he was going to run or how he was going to use his personnel.

Nevada shifted the running back from behind the QB to the side of the QB. This basically creates a form of a zone-read type of offense that Mike is familiar with. He must now break down the different play calls from this shift to get a bead on run or pass, what type of run, etc.

AND KNOW THIS: Nevada's run game concepts are NOT similar to Rutgers. Rutgers had five returning linemen that were physical at the point of attack and a veteran running back that was also physical. Rutgers had a different run game inventory and WSU had no answer for the toss sweep. The Wolfpack did not show the toss sweep against Southen Utah, however the Cougs might want to review their assignments in case they put it in.

Nevada's run concepts call for a true read by the QB, and then either 1) Automatic give to the running back or, 2) Automatic keep by the QB. In their game against SUU, Nevada showed very limited use of the third option in this read package (bubble screen).

Coach Breske must have a plan to slow down Nevada's QB Cody Fajardo. In analyzing the SUU game, Cody seemed to get better and better as the game progressed. Other than an ill-advised interception (pick-6) late in the game, he played very well. The Cougars must have a physical plan for him when he keeps the ball and runs. He must pay a price with the ball in his hands.

Just a sidebar, Fajardo completed 73 percent of his passes on 41 attempts for over 300 yards while running for nearly 70 hashes. Truly a dual threat.

Nevada will employ a no-huddle system. They seem to play fast but not at warp speed like the Cougs will see later in the season. Their fastest drive took place on their first possession of the third quarter and it was aided by the sharp passing of Fajardo hitting four excellent throws in a row.

Without going into too much detail, I believe Coach Breske will have some excellent blitz packages dialed up for the Wolfpack. And I also think these will carry over to a similar offense the next week against Portland State. I'm excited to watch his blitz schemes!

Do not carry over the Rutgers self-inflicted wounds

br> The disappointment of not stopping the run on defense, the lack of any positive run game on offense, the self-inflicted wounds: I personally look at these three areas from the Cougs’ opener as "opportunities for improvement."

I'm certainly no guru of "The Air Raid Offense.” In fact, most of my knowledge comes from attending several practices when Coach Leach first came to Pullman. He was kind enough to allow me to sit in on several offensive meetings.

And I love his somewhat simplistic teaching approach that allows your perimeter players to have instant success in his offense.

The biggest question nevertheless becomes, "How can the defense stop the run, if they never see the run in practice?"

If I were to put my coaching hat on to tackle this question, I would ask is there ONE thing that we can tweak in practice to stop the run and improve our running game? It could be as simple as individual drills by certain position groups, such as … pad level drills by the D-Linemen, tackling in space by the secondary, maintaining a block a half-step longer on an Off-lineman, using your hands more efficiently as a perimeter blocker to help the run game.

I'm sure the Cougar staff is addressing these issues, and I think they have to be addressed as "opportunities for improvement."

When WSU has the ball, a few things to watch for:

br> In Coach Leach's offensive system there seems to be a set amount of plays in the inventory. The philosophy of this approach allows for tremendous QB development. Twofold, in theory, it should minimize the assignment errors of all 11 players on the field. If you do it over and over you should get it right!

The key point here is that elimination of assignment errors has a direct correlation to a reduction in turnovers. If all players do their 1/11th correctly, then there should be no turnovers.

With that understood, I believe the Cougs are in great hands with Connor Halliday at the helm. The thing I like best about Halliday is his toughness! There are a lot of traits a great QB must master, Halliday had toughness mastered by the time he left Ferris High in Spokane. And now, in 2014, he is maturing into one of the best QB's in the entire country! Watch for him to become a great coach on the field this Friday night.

Cougar receiving corps: In the Nevada-SUU game, Nevada's secondary was never truly tested. Southern Utah had a few positive throws downfield, however that’s just not their bread and butter. The WSU receiver corps must establish themselves early and often. This was a strength of the Cougar offense last week and should carry over on Friday.

Run Game:This seems to be the most controversial part of the Cougar offense. On the positive side, many short passes can be just as effective as run plays. Screen plays can also be used as a deviation in the run game while also slowing down the pass rush.

But the lack of run attempts inside the positive 12-yard line is a bit concerning, especially as I have been told the staff is very high on their ’14 running backs.

As such, a defensive coordinator coaching against the Cougs, you could eliminate a great deal of the weekly inventory. Instead, you can work on becoming great at defending the pass on this part of the short field.

Final Thoughts

br> 1. Force Nevada to have a slow start. The Wolfpack started SLOW against Southern Utah. Rutgers started FAST against the Cougs. They ended up being totally different games stylistically. In fact, Nevada took seven possessions to hit pay dirt, while Rutgers scored on their first play from scrimmage.

2. Throw the slant route until they stop it. Southen Utah had success with the slant and it seems to be a strength of the WSU offense. Again, call it, till they stop it.

3. Win situational football. Practice the heck out of situations that were weak against Rutgers, making them a strength against Nevada. The more situational football the players can experience before conference play begins, the better. It is GREAT to get these situations on video. The video will be a great teaching tool and will instill confidence in the players. A true mindset that, 'We've been here before, now let's go get it done!'

4. National Common Denominator: Missed tackles. Every team in America seemed to struggle with tackling last week. This is true because it is challenging to simulate live tackling drills in practice, and by rule you cannot scrimmage every day. The teams that fix it the fastest are going to be playing for championships!

5. Minimize self-inflicted wounds addendum. The best example here is of course the punt return late in the Rutgers game that got stripped causing a turnover. It is OK to call a fair catch in this situation. The goal of any special teams play is to "have the ball at the end of the play". Again, situational football. With a lead on the scoreboard, a return attempt is not needed.

6. On The Road at Mackay Stadium. At one time this was a really tough place to play. The end zone closest to the locker room had really crazy fans, called the zonnies! You could not hear anything. I don't know if it’s still that way, but always better to be prepared. (Mackay is also known for great hotdogs and hamburgers, if you go to the game, enjoy!)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robin Pflugrad has spent 29 years as a college football coach, and as head coach at Montana was a finalist for the 2011 Eddie Robinson Award as the nation's top FCS coach. From 2001-05 he was an assistant at Washington State, where he served as tight ends coach, recruiting coordinator and assistant head coach. He was an assistant at Arizona State prior to coming to WSU and at Oregon after leaving WSU. He is a graduate of, and former assistant coach at, Portland State. Former WSU head coach and longtime d-coordinator Bill Doba referred to Pflugrad as “The Bulldog” while at WSU, owing to Pflugrad’s attention to detail and passion for recruiting. He and wife Marlene reside in Phoenix, where he is a football consultant for a number of college programs and dabbles in broadcasting. His daughter Amanda works in the New York Jets’ online media department while son Aaron enters his second season as an offensive graduate assistant at ASU.

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