Expect some new faces on WSU's kickoff unit

SPOKANE – Just hours before news began to circulate that Mike Leach had ousted special teams coordinator and assistant head coach Eric Russell, Washington State's director of football operations, Antonio Huffman, told a Spokane Cougar Club luncheon on Monday there are likely to be new faces on the Cougars' kickoff team when they play at Stanford on Friday.

“We evaluate every unit every week,” Huffman said when asked if there would be some new faces playing on the kickoff team in light of the two long kick returns for touchdowns the Cougars gave up to Cal on Saturday. “I think especially on kickoffs you’re going to see some different guys out there.”

And one new face on the sidelines calling the special teams shots. Shortly after Huffman's lunch comments, Leach said at his weekly press conference that Russell had been relieved of his duties and the job of coaching the various special teams units would be divided through the staff, but that offensive quality control assistant Eric Mele had been elevated to regular staff assistant and would coordinate responsibilities among the staff.

Huffman was asked specifically whether receiver Vince Mayle, a standout on kickoff defense, was on the field for either of Cal's back-to-back 98- and 100-yard returns by Trevor Davis.

“On the first return, Vince rolled up on his ankle,” Huffman said. “It was decided that, to preserve him for offense, that he would not be on the return teams, so no – he wasn’t out there for the second return.”

Huffman said he played in his share of high-octane offensive battles while at Texas Tech under Leach, especially against Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.

From that standpoint, he said he felt that some of the young players on the Cougars defense got a little panicky in the second half Saturday night.

“You’re coached to just play the next play,” Huffman said. “Put what happened on the last play out of your mind and play the next play. I thought our guys pushed the panic button a little bit in the second half.”

Huffman brought a highlight package that included a pair of "outstanding" Connor Halliday touchdown passes to Mayle and River Cracraft.

Mayle’s 90-yarder was made possible when the Cal safety bit, sliding toward the middle of the field to cover the Cougars’ slot receiver on a crossing patter, leaving Mayle one-on-one with the cornerback.

“You can’t cover Vince like that,” Huffman smiled. “You really need to cover him with two guys.”

If you were still a DB on that play, what would you do? Huffman was asked.

“I’d be thinking that it was six points as soon as he caught the ball and I would be looking to hold him,” he laughed. “I’d rather give up the 15 yards than the six points.”

Cracraft’s 86-yard catch and run was a similar play, with the sophomore receiver making a wicked plant-and-go, blowing past the safety to make the catch in the open field.

“To me, he’s all-day open,” Huffman said.

Huffman was asked about how the receiving staff handled the loss of Rickey Galvin to injury, who was seen coming off the field on the TV broadcast.

“I know Rickey would (have loved) to get back out there,” Huffman said. “But I do think the other guys stepped up. You saw Connor going to Calvin Green on some key plays and he did a great job on those inside routes.”

With the Stanford game on Friday (6 p.m. PT, ESPN) rather than Saturday, the Cougars' normal practice off day -- Monday -- is a work day, says Huffman. “The practice schedule stays the same,” Huffman said, except that everything is moved up one day.

Stanford is 3-2 on the season and coming off a tight loss at Notre Dame. The Card are ranked No. 25 in the nation and oddsmakers have installed them as 17-point favorites against the 2-4 Cougars.

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