WSU's Mastro: You should have seen what I saw

SPOKANE -- Jim Mastro knew his audience had watched the live broadcast of Washington State’s 37-34 victory at Rutgers. A few may even have traveled to New Jersey to see the game in person. But to fully appreciate the way the Cougars pulled out the last-minute victory, Mastro offered a different, compelling perspective.

“You needed to see things from where I was – down on the field,” the Washington State running backs coach said. “I gotta tell you, before we had that last drive, I looked in those kids’ eyes and all I saw there was confidence. It was like they were all saying ‘Don’t worry, we got this.’”

Jim Mastro shared video of two key plays from that final, 10-play drive – both Luke Falk passes to Y receiver River Cracraft.

“Remember that last play from last year’s Rutgers game?” Mastro asked Monday’s Cougar Club luncheon audience. “This first play from this drive is the same play. Last year River went up for the ball and couldn’t make the catch. This time? He goes up strong and comes down with the ball.

“We like to run a lot of what we call “Y Over.” When you see River make plays in the middle of the field, it’s usually this play. River starts to go underneath the coverage, then he sticks his foot in the ground and goes over.”

Mastro then showed the final touchdown, explaining that it, too, was a “Y Over” route.

“One of the things we saw going in was that every time we got inside the 10-yard line, Rutgers changed personnel,” Mastro said. “When they did that, one of the routes we had in was an end-line route to River.

“On this play we caught Rutgers with 12 men on the field, so Luke knew he had a free play. He threw it up there and River caught it.”

Mastro had high praise for his three primary running backs: Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington – noting that Morrow, last year’s leading rusher, did not play against Rutgers.

“We can’t play all three and Wicks and Harrington were doing a great job running the football,” he said. “One of my goals is to never allow teams to guess what we’re going to do based on who we have in the game. All three of our guys are the same guys – they all can do the same things.”

Rutgers, he said, was much more predictable based on its personnel.

“If the fullback was in the game, we knew they were going to follow him,” Mastro said. “Our guys could key on the fullback and make the play.”

The Cougar defense followed up a strong first half with a second half that saw them on their heels. Still, Mastro was pleased with the play of the Washington State stop corps.

“I can’t tell you how good it is to have a defense out there,” he said. “Getting three takeaways is huge in a game like this.

“This is still a new defense and the guys playing it are still learning. But where we got into trouble was having guys try to do too much. We’d have a guy who was supposed to cover the No. 2 receiver, so why did he try to cover the No. 1 guy? They’re going to work it out, but coach Alex Grinch has these guys excited to play.”

Mastro was asked about the kicking game – specifically why the Cougars don’t try more often to kick the ball deep or even out of the opponents’ end zone with big-legged Erik Powell.

“We don’t want him to do that,” he said. “For one thing, if you kick it out of the end zone, they get the ball on the 25-yard line now. If we can get hang time and have them field the ball at the three-yard line every time, we’re going to be just fine.

“On five of the six kicks against Rutgers, we were holding their guy to his worst return game in his college career. On the sixth we had a guy decide to do his own thing and, boom.”

Mastro said the coaching staff had been concerned about how the Cougars would react on Saturday to the Portland State loss a week earlier, especially in traveling across the country to a venue like Piscataway, New Jersey.

“No matter what you may think, Rutgers is a good football team,” he said. “We were really concerned about this game, and (you know what), the kids go out and play their butts off.”

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