CF.C Coach's Chalkboard with Robin Pflugrad

WASHINGTON STATE AT this point of the week has already spent a mountain of time studying Arizona State’s tendencies. And the Sun Devils’ loss to Oregon State on Saturday exposed a lot of chinks in ASU’s armor. But before we delve into that, let’s talk Mike Leach vs. Todd Graham. Air Raid mastermind vs. Maroon Monsoon guru. Get the popcorn. This is going to be fascinating to watch.

It's a young Cougar QB facing a fairly young defense that loves to blitz. And on the other side, there's a veteran Sun Devils QB who needs to right the ship after a devastating loss.

And there's an early, 10 a.m. kick-off time to boot.

Graham runs an aggressive style of defense geared toward high risk, high reward. It keyed a five-game winning streak that placed ASU on the brink of the national playoff. It can wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

And the gambles that are taken can also lead to big, big plays by the opposing offense, as seen last week in ASU's 35-27 loss to Oregon State.

It's simple logic: when Graham blitzes six, seven, even as many as eight, there will be open space for the taking. But the QB had better get the ball away quickly and in the right spot because ASU's “here we come” mentality can and will prevent you from getting the ball to these open areas, let alone with accuracy.

The Devil defense came up big the past two weeks against Notre Dame and OSU, forcing QB fumbles -- including a scoop-and-score vs. the Beavs. But OSU ripped off two long running TDs and their max-protect scheme in the second half set up two beautiful TD passes of 20- and 67 yards.

ASU lives by the blitz, and they die by the blitz. All in all, they're 8-2 and No. 13 in the land this season. I'd say they're livin' a lot more than they're dyin'.

But WSU's offense is in large built upon the concept of getting the ball away quickly, attacking the weak spots in space -- sideline to sideline. The mesh concepts in Leach's offense, if executed properly, could put on a show like OSU did, albeit in a very different way.

The sheer importance of meetings and video study

Against ASU, Beaver QB Sean Mannion picked up on something. ASU was showing a type of blitz scheme they'd used so successfully this season. Mannion quickly said something to his offensive line and his running back. I believe he was checking out of one run play into another run play. From the 12-personnel package, it was designed specifically for the exact blitz that was coming.

Storm Woods went 78 yards untouched up the middle, the longest run of his career and the longest by a Beaver running back in a decade. Minutes later RB Terron Ward, with the Beavs again in 21-personnel, burst through the ASU line for the longest run of his career, a 66-yard touchdown romp.

The Beavers piled up 247 yards rushing on the ground vs. ASU. The week before, they had 37 yards on 24 carries against Washington State.

What was the reason for this ungodly rushing output, especially so early in the game? I believe it can be primarily traced directly back to meetings and video study in examining the Sun Devils' tendencies. With most college video systems, a coach or player can watch every single play from the 2014 season, even going back a few years is possible. WSU's video system in their new building has been described as state-of-the-art.

Watching Cut-Ups

Cut-ups are exactly that, cut up plays of the offense, defense and special teams. Say you want to watch the blitz tendencies of an upcoming opponent. The Cougar offensive staff and players can, for example, look at every play of the ASU defense vs. 10-personnel, (I know you know what 10-personnel is from my previous articles, right?) And this can almost be broken down to the nth degree.

What is ASU’s favorite blitz against 10-personnel, in a 3 x 1 formation and on third-and-five? Make your selection and press play and voilà, you have all plays from the 2014 season that match. This now can be compared to a 2 x 2 formation or with a third-and-ten.

An important part of the process is to utilize this data in a constructive manner. Practice time and the 20-hour rule will only allow you to do so much.

WSU, in my opinion. would waste their time watching Oregon States offensive plan to defeat ASU’s blitz scheme with their 12 and 21 personnel groupings. Washington State simply doesn’t run plays with two tight ends (12) or two running backs and one tight end (21). The Cougs will therefore need to spend their time on teams with similar offensive personnel and formations and plug in the blitzes that were ran against these looks.

The video system is a great way to prepare and scheme, but it's also a tool to identify personnel breakdown as related to the game plan. Video will tell you just how good OR bad a player really is at certain things. Video doesn’t lie, and it doesn't have a bias.

Each position coach and positional player should know through video study who the opponent's best defensive lineman is, the best linebacker, safety and corner. Conversely, coaches and players can look at potential mismatches by finding the weakest link.

At Montana we called this, “Where’s Waldo?” I would literally walk through the hallway on Monday afternoon asking the position coaches, “Who is your Waldo this week?” That really helped to solidify who we could “attack” on that given week.

NCAA 20-hour rule

Formulating a game plan takes multiple man hours every week, keeping coaches up until the wee hours of the night. I’ve always thought it important for the QB to be involved in as many meetings as possible. However, there is a 20-hour rule established by the NCAA and monitored by the individual football programs through their compliance offices.

Most QBs (and Luke Falk certainly fits into this category) have a true gym rat mentality towards the game, they want to spend as much time as the coaches do thinking about the game plan. I’ve had to tell a few QBs and players over the years that it’s time to go home, that I would have to report them to the compliance office in violation of the 20 hour rule unless they packed it up.

The 20-hour rule applies to all football related activities, such as: the actual game itself, all practice sessions, weight room and conditioning workouts, individual work outs if coach is present, all video sessions and meetings with a coach present.

Final thoughts

Todd Graham in nine years as a head coach (115 total games) has a 65.2 percent winning percentage. At ASU through nearly three seasons, it's 70.3 percent. Graham has won or tied for a conference championship on four occasions and is 4-2 in bowl games. Mike Leach has coached 162 games over 13 seasons as a head coach. His winning percentage is 59.2 percent, 34.2 percent at WSU. He tied for one conference championship in the Big 12 in 2008. He is 6-5 in bowl games. Both Leach and Graham have strong coaching and recruiting ties to the state of Texas, where football has always been king.

Saturday's WSU-ASU tilt should feature a classic matchup: marquee offense vs dynamic defense. Is it Saturday morning yet?

Good, then you have time to go back and bone up on 10-personnel, right? Okay fine, here you go.

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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