CF.C Coach's Chalkboard with Robin Pflugrad

WATCHING OREGON STATE march downfield on their opening drive vs. WSU, I joked with my wife, “Well, doesn’t look like Mike Breske read my article.” That article discussed OSU’s play action passes, fly sweeps and utilizing tight ends in the red zone. The Beavs used all these concepts on their first scoring drive. But as the game progressed it WAS apparent the Cougar D was well prepared for OSU.

And especially when it came to defending Oregon State’s talented stable of tight ends.

The Beavs often used 12, 13, 21 and 22 personnel groupings against WSU, which are tight end-heavy. Breske’s game plan might have bent -- the Beav TD on the opening drive was a tight end delay route off of play action, vintage Mike Riley football -- but it did not break.

Indeed, Breske had a solid plan to defend these formations and Connor Hamlett and Caleb Smith.

Usually, when you play multiple tight ends you are trying to establish the run game. Once this is established the play action concepts should be a tremendous supplement to the offense. Breske’s plan coupled with the dynamic play of young redshirt freshman QB Luke Falk were the reasons the Cougs left Corvallis with a win in their pocket.

Falk a Sky Rocket in Flight, Afternoon Delight!

My first post-game thought after the win was that Bill Moos should get on the phone and change every single 2015 kickoff time to 1:05 p.m. I thought the first offensive series by the Cougars was absolutely brilliant. The first play call was a run and it counted for more than one move in the coaching chess game.

First, it settled down any type of anxiety that QB Luke Falk might have been feeling. Secondly, it sent a subliminal message to the running backs and offensive linemen -- we are going to take some pressure off the new QB and run the ball.

Third, it played a deception card at the Beavers – hey, the Cougs might be running the ball a lot more than usual. As the serious progressed, three short passes were completed in a row. This was smart play calling and helped establish a high level of confidence for Falk. The fifth play was a beautiful strike on the left sidelines to Mayle covering 27 yards. I know the end of the drive did not come to fruition with a missed field goal, but everyone in the stadium including Luke Falk knew the Cougs could move the ball after WSU’s first possession.

Why the Cougs won at Oregon State…

1. No big shocker on this first one: The performance of Luke Falk. Unbelievable production with a 72 percent completion rate on 61 throws for 471 yards. He tossed five TD passes and no interceptions and I’d give him a solid A in game management. He only stared down his receivers a couple of times (I was really concerned about this headed in). He extended plays for a positive end result, delivered accurate passes which allowed players to run after the catch and dumped down his passes when downfield receivers were covered. Most importantly, he showed poise and confidence which was contagious to his teammates.

2. Lack of a true blitz by the Beavers (they did blitz some in the red zone and bluffed occasionally). I believed headed in that Oregon State would bring the house about every other play, to test a young QB’s ability or lack of ability to handle the blitz. Instead they often only brought three players on the pass rush, thinking they would drop as many as eight into coverage and give Falk nowhere to go. This ended up instead being a huge advantage for the Cougars.

3. Additional carries in the run game. This statistic went up exactly 10 percent - from 18 to 28 percent run from the previous week. That might not sound like much but it was weighted to the first half and it did take a little pressure off of Falk. The Cougs could have run even more often since there were only 5 in the box (with wide aligned D-Ends) on numerous snaps.

4. The continued solid play of the Cougar wide receiver corps. There seems to be a true “Next Man Up” mentality here. The superb play of game leading receiver Tyler Baker was great to see. Vince Mayle’s performance was again head turning, leading to his setting the school record for receptions in a season (86). Congratulations!

5. Fewer penalties than the Beavs. The Cougs had half the penalties (five) and lost 51 yards in the process while OSU lost 100 yards, (and their cool in the second half.)

Another Bye Week…

I heard Coach Mike Leach talk after the game about the upcoming bye week, saying it would be about academics and recruiting. I totally agree with this.

At this point in the year a lot of young players have practiced, lifted weights, traveled and played in as many as 10 college football games. This schedule is totally different than their days at the high school or the junior college level.

This is an outstanding opportunity to compete and finish strong in the classroom!

Offense Wins Games, Defense Wins Championships… still?

In my very first coaching job, the head coach would ask me for three stats each and every week - turnover ratio, time of possession and penalties per game, (types and yardage). In those days, I had to wait for the box scores that were sent in a canister along with the actual 16mm game film. That package was sent via Greyhound bus. Occasionally, the opposing coaches would get it to the Greyhound station conveniently late for the first bus out of town. That of course delayed our game prep, as well as my statistical report to head coach.

Once I received and compiled the data, the head coach and I would discuss the findings. His choice of stats made perfect sense to me. The turnover ratio, plus the how, when and how often particulars on turnovers is what victory can swing on. Time of possession -- how long are they controlling the football and what are they doing with it (scoring, punting, field goals, etc.) is illuminating Penalties per game shows discipline, lack of discipline and ways to attack the opponent. Today, there is smorgasbord of data available instantly on the internet. There are 47 different categories of statistical team data I can call up with a few mouse clicks.

Now, take the old bromide: Defense wins championships. The “total defense” stat is the bellwether here and Stanford is ranked No. 5 in the nation, tops in the Pac-12. Yet Stanford is 5-4, teetering on even becoming bowl eligible.

Among the playoff contenders, Alabama is ranked No. 4 in total defense … while Florida State comes in at 50th. But that’s nothing. Mississippi State is 89th while Oregon is ranked 104th. The Cougars currently are actually ahead of the Ducks, ranked 102nd. So defense, it would appear in 2014, does not necessarily win championships. So what does?

In reflecting back to the three stats that my first boss wanted to know, let’s rank the Cougs nationally and with some comparisons.

Turn-Over ratio: WSU, minus-10, 115th; (Stanford, minus-9, 114th; TCU,plus-16, 1st, Oregon, plus-15, 3rd).

Time of Possession: WSU-34th (31 min); Colorado-10th (33); UW-101st (28); Oregon-122nd (26).

Penalties per game: WSU-106t h (7.8); OSU-124th (9.56); ASU-19th (4.78); Navy-1st (2.67).

There is another oft-mentioned, so-called truism in college football; “The best offense is a good defense.” But let’s reverse it. Is the best defense a good offense?

On the national level, 10 of the top 32 in total offense have not qualified for postseason play. Half of those teams come from the Pac-12. There are eight Pac-12 teams among the top 32 programs nationally in total offense. (WSU is ranked No. 7 with 521 yards per game.) But only five of the eight have qualified for bowl games at this writing.

The most important stat will always be putting a “W” on the scoreboard. Statistics do show a direct correlation in putting points on the board and winning games. But maybe the pendulum has shifted more towards this: A good not great defense… is a great offense.

Other use of Stats…

As a head coach, I wanted our position coaches to study the statistics in direct correlation to their position group. By being fully versed in those stats, they were more knowledgeable in how to defeat their opponents. We used statistical data from many of the 47 categories only as a guideline and it held value outside of that week’s game too. In became relevant to recruiting, our winter conditioning program, in the weight room, and spring ball and summer workouts.

But a coach can spend hours upon hours poring over it all, and the one thing all the numbers and stats can never show: a player’s will to prepare, perform and achieve. Two come to my mind when I think back to the Cougs’ win at Oregon State: QB Luke Falk and WR Tyler Baker.

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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