CF.C Coach's Chalkboard with Robin Pflugrad

COACHES LOVE WATCHING game tape and identifying something they believe will work against the upcoming opponent. When I look at the Cougs’ matchup against Portland State scheduled for Saturday (5 p.m. Pac-12 Networks), I think it is likely Portland State will try to take a page out of Nevada’s book against the Cougars with respect to their umbrella coverage.

WSU vs. Portland State: 7 Cougar keys to victory

1. Indeed, Portland State might well try and take a page out of Nevada’s book on defense and run the same type of four-man front umbrella coverage that worked well vs. the Cougs' passing attack. When they went to that umbrella coverage, Nevada’s linebackers were way back in the box. This allowed Nevada to rally up and make tackles on the Air-Raid crossing routes. Mike Leach this week has said the running backs need to get more touches -- and the umbrella coverage seen at Nevada might have been just what he was referring to. If PSU does employ it similarly, where the linebackers are 6-8 yards off the four-man down lineman front, Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks, Theron West and Marcus Mason may not only get more touches, they may very well break off some long runs and a good amount of yards after the catch.

2. WSU meanwhile will probably employ a “multiple” defensive game plan against Portland State, who has a similar offensive scheme to that of Nevada. However, offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum does a masterful job of incorporating dynamic passing concepts that serve as an excellent complement PSU’s pistol run game. So for the Cougs, there will definitely be carry-over from the Nevada game. The WSU defensive staff has no doubt broken down the video play by play and compared that to what the Vikings have showed.

3. The Coug D must prepare to defend QB Paris Penn, PSU’s multitalented athlete. As we discussed last week, WSU would have a plan for slowing down Nevada QB Cody Fajardo – he wasn’t as successful in the passing game as he was the previous week, so give credit to D-staff and players. Unfortunately for the Cougs, he made some amazing runs that enabled Nevada to score points and maintain momentum.

4. WSU’s plan for defending Kasey Closs at wide receiver will be important. He is the type of receiver we would all ‘love to coach!’ The reason? He is CONSISTENT. He is exactly where he needs to be on every single play.

5. The Cougs also must not allow RB Shaquille Richard to get off to a fast start. He is going to get better every game. Last week he rushed for 151 yards on only 14 carries. Running back is truly one of those positions that the more touches during a game, the better one tends to become.

6. The WSU offensive line must be able to pass protect against PSU’s quality defensive ends. This was an issue last week against Nevada’s Brock Hekking (No. 53). Hekking is 6-4, 255, which is just slightly bigger than the ends from Portland State. PSU’s ends have great get off and play with their hair on fire. Sadat Sulleyman (No. 42), and Dame Ndiaye (No. 98) hurried, harassed and affected Oregon State’s Sean Mannion throwing most of the afternoon in their narrow 29-14 loss.

7. Key Matchup. WSU’s wide receivers vs PSU’s secondary. I love the way both units play. Portland States DB’s are coached by head man Nigel Burton and they are excellent tacklers. Demetrius Jackson (No. 6) has had success against FBS receivers in the past. But the WSU receiver corps is a unit full of playmakers. This will be a fun battle to watch.

A review of Portland State

In their opener against Oregon State, the Vikings played a very solid first half of football. Oregon State did help PSU on several occasions early in the game, as the Beavers self-destructed through most of the first quarter with penalties and other miscues. (OSU had 10 first half flags thrown against them – 10!) The Vikings capitalized nicely on the Beaver errors and got a tremendous first half performance from athletic QB Paris Penn out of Grant High in Portland. Penn had five carries for over 100 yards and 2 TD’s. The third quarter is when the game finally turned in favor of the Beavers.

The Vikings called a trick double pass early in the third quarter, which was intercepted by the Beavs. I have no problem with the play call. In fact, I thought it was a great call in the given situation. However, the execution was to blame – the second pass was thrown into an orange crowd. The second throw simply should not have taken place. The player should always lock the ball away in such a situation, run, and get as much positive yardage as possible. The Viking defense did hold OSU to a field goal but the damage was done - momentum had shifted.

Portland State ran only 14 offensive plays in the 3rd quarter and three were turnovers. Meanwhile the Beavers ran 31 plays which included 2 field goals and a touchdown. The OSU tight ends accounted for 10 receptions and seemed to take some pressure off of Beaver QB Sean Mannion and the WR corps.

There was not much information available about the Vikings’ game last week against Western Oregon. Portland State won the football game 45-38 and statistics show Penn had an outstanding game, as did Closs. However, the stat sheet showed 18 penalties for 146 yds. This probably has been addressed this entire week in practice by Burton.

Rewind further…Thoughts on WSU’s “Seattle game”

I know this has been discussed a lot and also that by now it is probably out of sight out of mind for many of you. But I had the opportunity to coach in the inaugural Seattle game in which the Cougs defeated a very solid Nevada team 31-7. And there’s something I haven’t seen much written about.

As Bill Moos stated, "It has served its purpose, and the fact that we have invested considerably in Martin Stadium leads me to think that we should play our games in Pullman." I have a tendency to agree with Bill, with one caveat.

The ol’ recruiter in me would love to see the Cougs play a game in Seattle once every four years. With this formula, you could sell the family on seeing their son play locally in addition to the Apple Cups held in Seattle – call it a recruiting living room bonus. And then, hopefully, with limited time constraints you could schedule a bye the week following the game. This would help with the burden of team travel. The game could be played on a Saturday, Saturday night, Friday night or even Thursday night with tremendous TV coverage. With four years notice, I’ll bet Coug fans would be able to find a baby sitter if the game was on a weeknight.

Much was been said about being 0-7 in the last seven Seattle games. The first time the Cougs won both of the games in Seattle (in the years the Apple Cup was at Husky Stadium) was in 2005 under Coach Bill Doba. Doba’s crew was able to repeat this feat in 2007. My point is that it is challenging to win no matter where games are played. Since 2008, in games played in Pullman, the Cougs are 12-20. Of those 12 wins, five have been victories over FCS teams. The positive is that the Cougars are turning it around – they were 3-2 last year in Pullman. This is something that the Cougs can build on.

And a Seattle game once every four years still makes great sense to me for the Cougs – for building alumni ties, recruiting and more.

Quick Nevada Thoughts

The Cougs probably would have left Reno in the win column if they could have reduced the negative situations and played the way they did on their second quarter TD drive (5 plays, 80 yds. 1:32, best drive this season in my book). Examples: Cut the turnovers in half, cut the sacks in half, reduce the amount of Penalties by 30-40 percent, convert one of the two fourth down attempts, (fourth down stops are HUGE momentum changers for the opposing defense).

Are these issues correctable by the home opener this weekend? You bet they are! The Cougar offense played well in Week One, the defense played well enough to win in Week Two. Look for the overall team to gel better in Wee Three, (getting a boost from the special teams unit), in front of a rowdy home crowd.)

There’s no place like home

Much has been said about how the Cougs now need to go 6-4 to become bowl eligible. Not enough has been said about the fact the Cougs have six of 10 remaining games in Pullman.

It’s now time for the Cougs to come home and have their first game in newly renovated Martin Stadium. Based on my experience in Pullman, and with the renovation of Martin Stadium and more decibels bouncing off the Football Operations Building from the hostile home crowd, I truly believe will become one of the toughest road trips in all of college football.

Martin is a tough place to play -- I know that first hand. Having the opportunity to coach under Mike Price and Bill Doba in Pullman was an honor I cherish to this day. Both of these great men believed in the importance of family within the program. I was able to carry these lessons forward when I had the opportunity to become a head college football coach.

Getting the Cougs back to the Rose Bowl and winning 30 games in three years (11 game schedules) are some of my proudest moments as a college football coach. I also had some very proud moments as a father, watching my children go through Pullman High, culminating with the Greyhounds’ 2005 state football championship.

I believe a fun weekend is ahead for all CougFans, not only to see the new facilities but to also enjoy a Cougar victory in the home opener.

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.

Cougfan Top Stories