Upon further review, this might be the exception that proves the rule, maybe the Cougars should take a quick look at their remaining schedule and get even more fired up for Saturday’s tilt against the Trojans.
Six Keys to defeating USC ...
1. Slowing down Buck Allen, the Trojans’ league-leading running back, will be critical. My thought is that he’ll also most likely get his yardage in the end, and therefore stopping QB Cody Kessler would then become paramount. Kessler is throwing at 70-plus percent with 20 TD’s against only two interceptions. Kessler must be rattled early by an improving Cougar defensive line. And this can and should happen because the USC offensive line just isn’t what it used to be, particularly in terms of pass protection. Given the scholarship reductions, there’s a prime opportunity this year to to get after them -- WSU cannot let it go by.
2. Play physical with USC’s receivers. Press them each and every play. The Trojans use a lot of play action concepts that rely on defensive backs to step up to defend the run. If the corners are only responsible for their receiver in the pass game, no mental mistakes will occur. If this is practiced all week, then the Cougs will reap benefits on Saturday. Additionally, this will tire out the receivers having to defeat press coverage each and every play. With limited depth at all positions, the advantage would go to the Cougars.
3. When the Cougs do run, they must either run away from defensive lineman Leonard Williams (6-5, 300) or double team him at the point of attack. He is a different type of player than Arizona’s Scooby Wright (6-1, 246) but can be just as dominating. More importantly, the Cougar running backs should also check release on Williams before going into a pass route. This will help in pass protection and increase Connor Halliday’s comfort zone.
4. Halliday must find No. 21, Su’a Cravens, before every snap. Cravens has been money against both the run and the pass. He is the leader of USC’s defense. AND he will tell you by alignment or demeanor if he or his teammates are blitzing. They want to get him involved on each and every play. He holds the keys to the castle. But Halliday can change the locks.
5. Study the 2012 and 2013 Apple Cups. Steve Sarkisian and DC Justin Wilcox were both on those Husky coaching staffs. Tendencies from both coaches show up in these games. This is extremely important and valid information.
6. Using your defensive practice time and personnel to match what USC does on offense. WSU’s scout team use of tight ends and fullbacks mimicking the Trojan offense will be critical in practice. Simulating it will be a challenge. These scout team personnel groupings and formations must be perfect throughout the practice week (see chart and diagrams below).
Reviewing the Wildcat game …
There were a few issues that raised their ugly head, again, in WSU’s 59-37 loss to Arizona. How these issues can be improved upon should be the point of emphasis. Fans don’t have the luxury of attending the all-important staff meetings that take place throughout the week but I’ve always felt that the Sunday meetings were critically important for the improvement and direction for the upcoming week. My guess is the first order of business was most likely in the area of special teams. There has already been a staff change due to the inconsistencies in this area, but what else can be done?
When a football team is averaging 557 yards of total offense per game, that’s a lot of fun to watch. However, not many teams can come back from a 31-0 deficit and put a “W” in the win column. Arizona received game ball-type performances from Scooby Wright, a sophomore, on defense and Anu Solomon, a freshman, on offense. Going into the game both of these players should have had a bulls eye on their chests. WSU cannot afford to repeat this against USC. The Cougs must slow down USC’s best weapons.
Another major topic that should be discussed each Sunday is personnel. Are we using the correct personnel on our punt and kickoff units? In my tenure at WSU we were blessed to have some excellent players in our defensive secondary. We made sure that these players were on at least two special teams units. Occasionally we would switch these players around to our weaker special teams units to help them become stronger and more productive. That was a personnel formula that worked well for us at the time. We also supplemented many of our units with our wide receivers and tight ends. We also made sure our special teams had a tremendous leader to be the captain of the special teams.
O Captain! My Captain!
One of the captain’s roles was to promote the importance of special teams, especially in the locker room (there is probably more team chemistry built in the locker room than anywhere else in a college football program). The guy who excelled there for us was Jeremy Thielbahr, who played tight end and running back for the Cougs. Thielbahr demanded a lot from his teammates and that paid dividends in our special teams units. He had an unexplainable ability to inspire and motivate. Watching from afar on TV, it seems to me the Cougs need a 2014 special teams version of Jeremy Thielbahr. A teammate that is tough, fair and demanding on the field and in the locker room.
The special teams scheme would be another agenda item in Sunday meetings. Punter Jordan Dascalo had a very good day in terms of average yards per punt. However, was the scheme correct? A 53-yard punt is awesome but it has to covered. A review of the scheme might tell the punter and kicker to use a directional kicking scheme, away from the returners, in which case that 53-yarder might not have been as good as it appears on paper. Squibs and bloops are good change ups for the kick-off unit. Rugby style roll out punts are often hard for the returner to field and can be used to kick away from the defender. Some teams are using a punt/play call system in which the QB will either punt the ball out of shot gun formation or call a play that attacks what the defense is showing. Are these things the Cougs may look at?
Going back to Class …
I couldn’t help but notice this weekend that a college football announcer used the terms “21 personnel” and “11 personnel” in referring to the offensive personnel grouping . The first number that is given is the number of Running Backs there are in the formation. The second number given is the amount of Tight Ends that are in the formation. Here's the chart:
So when you see a coach on the sidelines hold up a sign that says 21, 11, 10 etc…that’s what it means. Against the Trojans the Cougs will go against several different personnel groupings. Some defenses substitute their personnel to match what the offense has on the field. This enables the defenses to play with big personnel vs. big offensive personnel. The challenge is that USC can put some excellent athletes and football players into these personnel groupings. The chess game begins with can the Cougs match the personnel grouping and formation. Here is some of what you can expect on Saturday ...
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, a college football analyst for Channel 3 KTVX (CBS). 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.