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Cal Football

WSU Preview: Leach's Offense Clicking Again, Defense Not So Much

November 7, 2019
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Coming off an 11-2 season, the Washington State Cougars were optimistic about 2019 if only they could find a quarterback to replace Gardner Minshew. 

That they did, boy did they ever. But the defense, which led the Pac-12 in sacks a year ago, has collapsed, taking the Cougs’ title hopes down with it. WSU comes into Saturday’s 4 p.m. game in Memorial Stadium at 4-4, 1-4 Pac-12, the same record as Cal. However, despite those dashed expectations, Wazzu’s immediate prospects are considerably brighter than for reeling Bears’. 

For one thing, they know who their quarterback is, and he’s a pretty good one. Senior Anthony Gordon, who transferred to WSU in 2016 after a year at City College of San Francisco, began the offseason third in a three-way battle with senior Trey Tinsley and grad transfer (Eastern Washington) Gage Gubrud. Then he won the job and all he’s done is lead the nation in passing with 3,387 yards in the eight games, an average of 423.4.

In fact of all the great QBs Leach has had in his eight seasons at WSU -- Jeff Tuel, Connor Halliday, Luke Falk, Minshew -- Gordon might be the best, at least statistically. His 163.76 passer rating and 8.5 yards per attempt would both be single-season highs in the Leach era if the season ended now. Also, the WSU high for TD passes in a season under Leach is 38. Gordon has 32 and is on pace for 50. 

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Anthony Gordon

“First of all he’s a confident guy and he’s a sharp guy,” Leach said in his press conference this week, “And then he had Luke Falk and his kind of monk-like work ethic and film to follow. And then he had Minshew’s enthusiasm and charisma to follow. I think he’s been very lucky, the guys that played ahead of him and he got to learn from.”

Of course, he also has some ability. “He throws the ball extremely well,” Leach said. “The ball comes off his hand real good. He’s got quick feet, too, so he can stay out of trouble.”

Cal head coach Justin Wilcox said Gordon, “has great anticipation.” He added, “ He throws it from the pocket, he throws it on the run, sidearm, over the top. He’s a good player.”

Another of Gordon’s strengths is his ability to roll left then stop and square up quickly and let fly.

Gordon also needs someone to catch his passes, and the Cougs have no shortage of those. Easop Winston Jr. (50 catches 606, yards, 9 touchdowns), Brandon Arconado (39, 591, 4) and Dezmon Patmon (36,537,5) are all on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award. Arconado, who was added to the list just this week, missed two games with an injury but has been effective since he’s been back. 

“I think experience and repetition is the biggest thing,” Leach said of the senior receiver’s success. “Arcanado came in undersized, pretty small out of high school. Walked-on, got bigger, got stronger, grew, and now he’s one of the best receivers in the conference, in the nation.”

The Cougs don’t run the ball very often, but when they do it is usually sophomore Max Borghi carrying it (78 rushes, 578 yards). Borghi has great acceleration, requiring just a few steps to get up to top speed. He is also a fine pass catcher, and is second on the team with 44 receptions which have been good for 398 yards.

He is the only Power-5 player with at least 550 rush yards, 350 pass yards, and ten total touchdowns. Borghi leads the Pac-12 with 7.2 yards-per-carry and leads all running backs in the nation with his 44 receptions.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Max Borghi (21)

The offensive line is experienced and particularly good at pass protection. Gordon throws the ball an average of nearly 50 times a game, and the Cougs have allowed just eight sacks. 

The troubles have come on defense and they started in the second half of the fourth game. Ranked 19th in the country the Cougars were 3-0 and had a 32-point lead against UCLA in the third quarter. In the most improbable game in decades the Bruins, who would finish with 675 total yards came back and won 67-63. 

The following week WSU lost at Utah, 38-13 and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys resigned. Leach and interim defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni moved some people around and simplified the playbook.

The results have been mixed, and while the Cougs did manage to hold Colorado to ten points on their Oct. 19 meeting, that came between losses to Arizona State and Utah in which the Cougars gave up 532 and 528 yards respectively.

The Cougs do have their own version of Evan Weaver. Inside linebacker Jahad Woods has 79 tackles, 45 unassisted. WSU does a lot of pre-snap movement to keep Woods whereabouts hidden.

“They can cause a lot of havoc upfront,” Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin said. “They’re penetrating, they’re skimming, they’re slanting a lot of times that will cause some problems in the backfield, fumbles, sacks on the quarterbacks.”

Offensive tackle Jake Curhan has plenty of experience going against WSU. 

“The stuff that they do is pretty scheme-oriented,” Curhan said. “When they are running it right it creates a lot of problems for an offense. …..A lot of stunts, a lot of movement. We just trying just to stop some of the movement so we can open some bigger holes for the run game. They try to get a guy in every single gap, they just do it differently than a lot of the other teams.”

The Cougs have six interceptions, which puts them in the middle of the pack in the conference and doubles Cal’s total.

“Disruption is the word I would use,” Baldwin said of WSU’s pass defense.  “They play with an attitude They disguise their zone coverages well. They get a lot of picks. They do a good job in a lot of their zone coverages. Sometimes it’s hard for a man team to get a lot of interceptions. a zone team has a chance to break on the ball, see the quarterback.”

 

Notes:

  • Cal leads the series, 47-28-5, but WSU has won two of the last three.
  • WSU’s last three losses were to ranked teams, Utah, Arizona State and Oregon. The last two defeats were by a combined total of seven points.
  • In their four losses, the Cougars have been outscored 101-57 in the second half. In their four wins, they have outscored the opposition  99-24 in the second half.
  • Oscar Draguicevich is averaging 44.0 yards on his 22 punts, fourth-best in the conference.
  • Eight Cougars have at least 18 pass receptions this year.
  • Blake Mazza has hit all 13 of his field-goal tries, with a long of 51 yards.

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Discussion from...

WSU Preview: Leach's Offense Clicking Again, Defense Not So Much

775 Views | 6 Replies | Last: 9 days ago by calumnus
calbear80
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It is going to be a tough game as every indicator favors WSU. Our only hope is that our Golden Bears show up strong and they Coug it.

This is our best chance for a W in the remainder of this season. Otherwise, we maybe looking at finishing the season with an eight game losing streak, something which was unthinkable only three weeks ago. It is do or die time for the Bears.

Go Bears!
LMK5
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This Gordon fellow was snatched right out of Cal's backyard even though he was the 3rd guy on the WSU depth chart? Is Cal's recruiting that anemic?
PtownBear1
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So 1.5 years after losing Grinch, their defense sucks again. I don't follow WSU closely enough to know what other factors there were, but their defense was trash before Grinch and trash after, so shows what a good coordinator can do even if the HC focuses on one side of the ball.
calumnus
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LMK5 said:

This Gordon fellow was snatched right out of Cal's backyard even though he was the 3rd guy on the WSU depth chart? Is Cal's recruiting that anemic?


I think WSU was his only major offer. Didn't our walkon from CCSF put up similar numbers there?

The grad and transfer QBs Leach takes are definitely not as highly regarded as the guys we have landed. It is not the talent going into the system that is the difference, it is the system and coaching that makes the difference. Leach makes great QBs out of castoffs. Baldwin and our offense would probably make Aaron Rodgers look bad if he were transferring from Butte right now.
LMK5
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calumnus said:

LMK5 said:

This Gordon fellow was snatched right out of Cal's backyard even though he was the 3rd guy on the WSU depth chart? Is Cal's recruiting that anemic?


I think WSU was his only major offer. Didn't our walkon from CCSF put up similar numbers there?

The grad and transfer QBs Leach takes are definitely not as highly regarded as the guys we have landed. It is not the talent going into the system that is the difference, it is the system and coaching that makes the difference. Leach makes great QBs out of castoffs. Baldwin and our offense would probably make Aaron Rodgers look bad if he were transferring from Butte right now.
To add to that, Modster certainly looked better as a UCLA QB.
calumnus
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PtownBear1 said:

So 1.5 years after losing Grinch, their defense sucks again. I don't follow WSU closely enough to know what other factors there were, but their defense was trash before Grinch and trash after, so shows what a good coordinator can do even if the HC focuses on one side of the ball.


Exactly. Leach, like Dykes, needs a really good DC.

Wilcox needs a good OC. The decisions made in this offseason will be huge.
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