WSU's O-line and the power of technique

PULLMAN — Football, we hear time and again, is a game of open spaces and mismatches. But when you get down in the offensive trenches, it’s a game of geometry. Here, technique is as critical to success as mass and agility.

The checklist can seem endless, the variations hinging on the play call and the position of the nearest defender. The smallest detail, like the alignment of your playside big toe and hip to a defender’s outside armpit, can be the difference between success or failure.

Cole Madison, Washington State’s starting right tackle, says he’s a different player than he was a year ago due to improved technique.

Last year, he said, he tried to “out athlete” people -- perhaps a natural inclination for a guy who was all-league in basketball and all-league at two positions in football at Kennedy Catholic High in Burien. In fact, Madison (pictured above, far left) is so athletic that WSU coaches briefly let him try out at receiver as a true freshman in 2013.

Size — Madison is 6-5, 303 pounds — and athleticism can only carry you so far at the major-conference level, however.

That’s a message WSU offensive line coach Clay McGuire has been emphasizing with Madison for more than a year.

Working on technique with his hands and feet is what Madison says he “really dialed into” this past off season.

Such maturity, not just in Madison but across the line, is why hopes in the Palouse are high that this is the year the Cougar offense graduates from being good between the 20s to being a major points producer.

Last season WSU was No. 2 in the Pac-12 in yards per game (519.5) but seventh in scoring offense (31.8).

“We’re blessed to have all five (starting) guys coming back,” says senior left guard Gunnar Eklund, who brings a team-leading 31 career starts into 2015. “All five guys have to do their job because if one person doesn’t we could have a negative play, so it’s huge having all five guys back.”

“It’s great for our team chemistry to have all five guys coming back up front,” Madison said. “As an o-line I think we’re the strongest unit because of our bonding and experience together.”

That strength goes deeper than the starting five of Madison, Eklund, Joe Dahl, Eduardo Middleton and Riley Sorenson. Seasoned veterans Jacob Seydel and Sam Flor also are back, as are all but one (Sean Krepsz) scholarship o-lineman.

While veteran, the cast is far from perfect, which McGuire didn’t hesitate to point out following Sunday’ scrimmage.

“I thought today was our worst day out here, so I wasn’t very pleased with the mentality they came out with,” he said. “We’ve been a lot better up to this point.   His biggest complaint was with pass protection, noting that “they’re doing really well” in the run game.

That sentiment is echoed by running back Jamal Morrow.

“It’s been great to have all the returners coming back, they’ve been opening up holes for us all over,” Morrow said. “We’re excited for the season to start so we can make things happen.”

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