Yogi Roth Q&A Part II: Runnin' Cougs?

WHEN WASHINGTON STATE quarterbacks started taking snaps from under center this spring, it begged the question: Is Mike Leach, a pioneer of the Air Raid offense, looking to commit more to a running game? In the view of Pac-12 Networks football analyst Yogi Roth, the answer is ...

Yes. The reason?

Roth sees WSU’s offensive line, which returns all five starters from last season including left tackle Joe Dahl (pictured above) being a whole lot better than anything seen in Martin Stadium in recent memory.

In part two of Cougfan.com’s Q&A, Roth talked about the possibility of a more balanced attack, evaluated Leach’s first three years in Pullman, shared his first impressions of new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and named his favorites to win the Pac-12 North and South.

CF.C: At Texas Tech, Mike Leach seemingly always had a successful running back who would rack up 800-900 rushing yards. Why do you think the running game hasn’t been as productive since he arrived in Pullman. Will that change in 2015?

Roth: "Offensive line-wise, they're just better. They've got more guys that are going to be there. They're returning seven starters on offense. This is a team I fully expect to run the ball. I think they want to run the ball.

It's just like Cal. We always compare these two programs. I think first and foremost, they're two totally different offenses but fundamentally they want to run the ball. Their whole thing when they get to the line of scrimmage is a run-pass is called. If the box is stacked, and you know that their guy is better than your guy, you're not going to run it. And if it's even and their guy is better than your guy, you're probably not going to run it.

"I think that's something that isn't talked about enough. It definitely isn't given any respect. But I think there is some truth to it. I've talked to Leach before calling one of his games. He said look: ‘If I'm going to go out in a street fight, and there is five guys and me, what am I doing?’ Sometimes, he looks at the running game like that.

“They had an average offensive line at best his first year. Last year you could argue they got a little bit better. But this year they've got everybody back. They don't have a bunch of first-round draft picks but they've got an offensive line that's capable. They've got a receiving corps that you have to respect.

(Defenses) are probably going to have to play some form of two-high. If you play just Cover 4, you might get beat on the outside because their guys for the most part are going to be better than yours at the skill positions. So you're going to play Cover 2, two-deep and dare Washington State to run the ball.

"I think this year, for the first time, they're going to accept that challenge. I would expect them to run the ball better. They won't become Oregon but I think they're going to run the ball better because they're going to finally be capable. They're going to walk into the “street fight” and not be outnumbered five-to-one anymore. It's going to be five-to-five and you're going to be able to make that argument.

"I don't think it's fair when they get lit up (about) not running the ball. I think you have to have a little bit more of a functional football acumen and watch the tape.”

CF.C: What was your first impression of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s 3-4 scheme during the spring? Will it be much different than what Mike Breske ran?

“They were in 3-4 last year for the most part. Schematically, I think that’s a good thing. Whenever you bring in a new defensive coordinator, versus an offensive one, I think the personality is so critical because you are changing a mentality. On offense, it’s easy to say we’re going to attack, we want to be aggressive, we’re going to go down field. I get all that…

“You could argue they have the top defensive line coach in the conference, let alone the country. They’ve developed really well there. To say we’re going to play with this energy, this style, I saw it as exciting. I think defensive players when they get a breath of fresh air, it’s a really good thing… now they’re a little older, a little more confident, a little more personality, they get a clean slate – especially in the back end… what they went through a year ago will benefit them a lot.

“I’m excited to see what happens and I love watching young coaches get their first coordinator job.”

CF.C: Have you been surprised with Leach's struggles at WSU? He was 84-43 at Texas Tech but just 12-25 after three years at WSU.

Roth: "It's a fair question, right? Coaches’ jobs are to win. He's getting paid a lot of money to do it. They built new facilities. But we also have to remember what he came from.

“Paul Wulff took a pretty messy situation from Bill Doba. They win the 2003 Holiday Bowl. They beat Texas. All of a sudden they start recruiting and getting in the rooms of four and five-star recruits but not signing any of them. Then all of a sudden getting a couple classes that never panned out. None of them stayed there. I thought Paul Wulff did an admirable job of cleaning that up. They bring in Mike Leach and in his first year they have nobody on the offensive line.

“Take that record away and his record isn't as bad (though) I think it's not fair to do because that's not the job. But I think fundamentally, they've done a nice job. To get to a bowl in year two was impressive. Maybe one would argue it was too early for the fan base and now you're upset when you don't make one in year three, which is obviously what happened.

"Last year they gave a couple games away. And I think they would say that too. But that's the Pac-12. Look, they say in college football that you’ve got to win. You usually get five years and you’ve got to show major signs (or) turn the page. But I think at places like this, you don't want to turn the page ridiculously fast.

"Mike Leach is the perfect guy for this place. He fits personality wise as I've gotten to know him a lot more over the last couple years. Clearly, in an offensive conference, he's a perfect fit… I think they're going to run the ball a little bit more but I think you know what you're getting with him when you signed up. You're going to get Air Raid. That's what you're getting.

“This is a big year… They easily could be the third team in the conference.”

CF.C: Who is your pick to win the Pac-12 North and the Pac-12 South?

Roth: "With what we know today, I'd pick Arizona State to win the South because UCLA hasn't decided on a quarterback, because USC is going to have play so many young guys on the back end. That's why I go there. Now talk to me Week 1, or prior to Week 1. If Jerry Neuheisel is the quarterback or Josh Rosen is the quarterback and the secondary of USC looks dynamic in training camp, I'll have a totally different answer for you. But from what I know now, I think Arizona State is the favorite."

"I think same in the North. I'd pick Stanford, because you don't know what the quarterback situation at Oregon is. Stanford, we know. And I'm going off the last three games, even though they lose their entire defense, I think they have the ability to reload. I think they've recruited as well as anybody on that side of the ball.”

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