CF.C Coach's Chalkboard with Robin Pflugrad

THE COUGS HAVE dominated the series against Oregon State. Okay, maybe dominating isn’t the right word if you want to get really technical about it. WSU holds a one-win advantage over the Beavers at 48-47-3. And WSU has only won twice in the last 10 meetings. The good news: both wins were in Corvallis. So how do the Cougars go into Reser this time, without Connor Halliday, and come out a winner?

1. Show up early. This will be the earliest kickoff for the Cougars this season (Pac-12 Networks, 1 p.m.) This could be a distinct advantage. The Beavs struggled in the first half last week against Cal -- and they did so in their two other early starts against Stanford and Portland State too . They played a tremendous third quarter but then struggled down the stretch. The Cougs need to get up early, start fast and score points, and preferably on their opening drive.

2. Disrupt the all-time leading passer in the Pac-12 conference. This can be done by dialing up new looks in the blitz game. OSU QB Sean Mannion has struggled this season – after tearing up the league in 2013 he is actually ranked last in some conference statistics this season. This does not mean he is not a capable QB. He has had many great games in his illustrious career and would love to finish the season with a bowl game. But he does not have the supporting cast that he enjoyed the last several years, not on the o-line and not in the receiving corps. And the Cougs must use this to their advantage.

3. Wide receiver Victor Bolden is emerging as the go-to-guy for the Beavers (11 rec, 119 yards vs Cal.) Bolden must be pressed at the line of scrimmage to disrupt his timing with Mannion. Opposite Bolden is redshirt freshmen Jordan Villamin. He had a very good game against Cal and is an imposing receiver at 6-4, 235 pounds. The Cougs must make him earn everything and remind him he is only a freshman. Other defenses have seen him make drops and mistakes, only to ease up off of him and then watch him turn in big plays. WSU needs to not let up on him.

4. Understand that the Beavers will look to rely on their tight ends in the short passing game and in their screen package. Minimize the tight ends and this will diminish the productivity of Mannion. Understand that the tight ends might be used at other times, significantly, for pass protection given the o-line’s performance during OSU’s three-game losing streak. OSU has given up 24 sacks for 200-plus yards. Be prepared for 12, 21 and 20 personnel groupings (see previous Coach's Chalkboard.)

5. Oregon State is one of the most penalized teams in the country. When the flags come out, WSU must use each and every one to seize momentum swings and take advantage of the hidden yardage.

6. Use your running back the way Cal did. No, Mike Leach won’t give his running back 30 carries but that’s not what I’m referring to. Cal’s back followed his blocks. Do the Cougs have a guy that can take some pressure off of young QB Luke Falk? This could be the biggest key to victory for the Cougs on Saturday afternoon, to get the running backs the ball via the pass and run and then for them to set up their blocks … and then punch it.

A tribute to Halliday

To me, Connor Halliday is a true warrior. It has been a pleasure to watch him throughout this season. Things haven’t gone as planned at 2-7 but Halliday has battled each and every game this fall. He has taken some big shots and still usually found a way to get rid of the football, on target, in the process. As I’ve written earlier, you cannot help but respect his sheer toughness. I saw this during the recruiting process when he was a player at Ferris High in Spokane. I saw it again the only time I saw him play live as a Cougar, in Martin Stadium in 2011 against ASU. On a cold, chilly and windy night, Halliday came into the game as an unknown. He was brilliant in throwing for 494 yards and four touchdowns. More importantly, he led his team to victory while earning the respect of his teammates and the opponent. I only wish there could have been more victories for Halliday.

No Depth but Plenty of Talent at Southern Cal

We heard all spring, summer and fall about the lack of depth USC would face this season due to NCAA sanctions on scholarship limits. But there is no such deficit in the starting lineup. RB Buck Allen, WRs Nelson Agholor and Juju Smith and QB Cody Kessler are just a few that have USC contending for the Pac-12 South crown. And still WSU had plenty of chances to take control, in the first, second and third quarters of that game. What stopped them was the inability to sustain anything positive. There were flashes seen, sure, but they fizzled out when needed most.

The positive signs I saw: the defensive front giving an entirely different look, a “Voodoo” type of look when the Cougs stand up and move around. This makes it tough on the offensive lineman to get their protection calls correct. The error you see most is when the OL assigns protection on a defender who at the snap, essentially disappears and rushes from somewhere else.

The other big positive I saw was the play of Falk. Although not spectacular and often sporadic, he showed signs of being in control of the offense. And you cannot discount what might have happened had the receivers had so many egregious drops. The Cougs need to rally around their new, exuberant leader. The one thing he must improve upon this week is not starring down the receiver as much as he did on Saturday. This has to be addressed, all week, in practice.

FBS Playoff: An Inexact Science…

It’s the most controversial issue facing college football. And how the format was set up to determine a national champion will be eternally controversial. Start with the selection committee itself. How do you become a member of this prestigious unit? How does a person become qualified? Is there an advanced degree program? What criteria was used by the governing body to select the members?

For starters, it is the FBS conferences that manage and govern the College Football Playoff. All FBS conferences become members of the new entity College Football Playoff Administration LLC. Chancellors and or Presidents from all 10 Conferences along with Notre Dame make up the Board of Managers. The Board of Managers will be responsible for the administrative and operational duties of the College Football Playoff. Additionally, there is an advisory group that is made up of current athletics directors. I believe that through the board of managers and the advisory group was how the Selection Committee was put in place.

The Selection Committee, and I quote, “is made up of a talented group of high-integrity individuals.” I’m sure we all agree it should be made up of individuals with integrity. It should also be made up of members that totally understand the complex and dynamic subject of college football.

One of the first things I researched in regards to the committee was the ability to vote for a team in which you had a relationship (because this entire process could come down to one vote). Upon further review I found that a recusal policy does exist. “If a committee member or an immediate family member, e.g., spouse, sibling or child, (a) is compensated by a school, (b) provides professional services for a school, or (c) is on the coaching staff or administrative staff at a school or is a football-student athlete at a school, that member will be recused.”

The following schools actually have members of the committee that will be recused due to a relationship; Air Force, Arkansas, Clemson, Nebraska, Southern Cal, Stanford, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. I found it interesting that none of the committee members had a relationship with the top 14 schools in the first rankings. This means that the very best programs in the country are not representative of the committee in place.

Ironically, there are two committee members that were student athletes at schools currently ranked in the top 6-7 spots and an additional member that received a master’s degree from a program ranked in the top ten. Under the current format it seems that a vote for the ol’ alma mater could possibly tip the scales in that direction.

Should have looked at Little Brother…

I truly believe that the FBS and the College Football Playoff Administration made their most glaring mistake by not looking at the playoff format in place for many years at the FCS level. (Alas, the FCS is now inviting 24 teams to their championship bracket which is WAY too many. It’s watered down a previously solid format and has increased students’ academic challenges with too many additional games and too much travel).

If we look hard at a previous FCS format, one that puts eight teams in the championship bracket, we could plug it into the FBS level. Take the top six bowl venues, with the title game rotating to, for example, AT&T Stadium (Dallas), Yankee Stadium, Century Link Field, etc. Or just make it the top seven bowl venues. It’s a simple bracket:

What does this do? It creates a system that all power conferences will be represented AND gives a fair opportunity for the Boise States of the world to be represented. On any given Saturday the No.8-ranked team in America could beat the No. 1 ranked team. This seems to happen quite often. Why not give more teams an opportunity without watering down the process? The top four bowl games are already in place. The three additional games this requires still ensures academic challenges would be minimal.

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.

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