There has been an abundance of interesting stuff written this week about the Coogs versus Cougs showdown that sees Mike Leach return to Texas and face off with a longtime pupil of his: Dana Holgorsen.
The Athletic wrote a great origin story about the 2000 Texas Tech football staff and how that group of obscure coaches radically changed college football offense in the 21st century.
So, the bar for written content around this UH/WSU match up is high, but we’ll do our best to as always find 5 interesting angles on and off the field of tonight’s game against the Cougs (my fingers still struggle to type this word).
1.) A 1-year Starting QB Legacy
After an open competition through the off-season months, Anthony Gordon won the starting quarterback job over grad transfer Gage Gubrud and fellow 5th year senior Trey Tinsley.
If you have been following Leach since his days at Texas Tech, his decision to start a veteran with minimal on field experience shouldn’t come as a surprise. There was actually a 3-year stretch from 2003-05 where the Red Raiders started a 5th year senior/previous career backup each of those seasons: BJ Symons, Sonny Cumbie and Cody Hodges, respectively.
All 3 of those QBs were quite productive, each led the nation in passing yards their respective year as a starter. Their lack of meaningful game reps prior to their 1 year as a starter paled in comparison to the years of practice reps they got in Leach’s offense.
At WSU, Leach has mostly been able to rely on multi-year starters like Luke Falk and Connor Halliday. After the tragic death of Tyler Hilinski (a topic that will get its adequate space later here) the Cougs were scrambling to find a QB and in stepped ECU grad transfer Gardner Minshew.
While Minshew had a 1-13 record starting for some truly terrible ECU teams, he was a good fit for Leach’s offense and even gave the offense a QB run dynamic it’s rarely had over the years.
Considering little has changed schematically from the offense Leach ran in the mid-00s to now, I expect Gordon to be productive like Symons, Cumbie, Hodges and most recently Minshew were in the past.
One interesting thing to watch on the horizon is the 2020 offensive re-sets both teams will be undergoing. Like Houston, WSU is senior-heavy at the QB and WR positions which adds an interesting wrinkle when these teams meet next year in Pullman.
2.) He was a good one: Mr. Grinch
After facing the Alex Grinch-coordinated Oklahoma defense in week 1, the Cougar offense will once again get to face a defense heavily impacted by Grinch. It has been 2 years since Grinch coached in the Palouse, but his fingerprints are still pretty visible on the Cougs’ defense.
Prior to his arrival in 2015 the Cougs under Leach had 3 losing seasons and were mostly bad on defense, especially in the 2 seasons before his arrival. Despite having no prior experience as a defensive coordinator (he’d served previously as DBs coach at Mizzou, Wyoming and New Hampshire) his first unit was one of the country’s most improved.
By 2017, the Cougs were one of the country’s best pass defenses and generally one of the PAC-12’s stingiest groups. Its not a coincidence that WSU won 27 games during Grinch’s 3 years on the Palouse and 12 in the 3 years prior.
Like all promising young coaches who succeed and show some creativity, the blue blood schools started sniffing around Grinch. Eventually, he returned to his home state to be co-DC with Greg Schiano at Ohio State and this past offseason accepted the sole DC position at Oklahoma. Leach made a smart hire to replace Grinch: longtime college DC and former Minnesota head coach Tracy Claeys.
As our guest Michael said on this week’s WSU preview Pawdcast the genius of Claeys last year was to realize he had a talented, senior-heavy group and change very little from Grinch’s scheme. The 2018 WSU defense was very productive and a big part of the team’s school-record 11 wins.
With a lot of key players departed from last year, that Coug defense has become more of a question mark. You’d can’t glean too much from playing New Mexico State and Northern Colorado, but Houston’s main hope to stay in this one is a shaky and inexperienced opposing defense.
We’ll get to see firsthand how much Grinch’s lingering influence or Claeys’ creativity can do for the visitors tonight.
3.) Enviable Receiver Depth
In some medium, probably a combination of the written word or on a Pawdcast episode, I made the assertion that Oklahoma’s receiver group was by far the most talented one UH would face in the 2019 regular season. I still believe this to be true, but you’d be hard pressed to find a deeper group than WSU’s receivers.
Like UH, Wazzu went into 2018 with a lot of question marks at receiver and now come into the current season as maybe the surest thing on their team. Other than Jamire Calvin, who it sounds like could redshirt 2019 due to an injury, all the expected returnees have played a big role.
Dezmon Patmon, Tay Martin and Easop Winston Jr. have all caught at least 8 passes each at the outsider receiver positions.
The Cougs have gotten a pleasant surprise in former walk-on 5th year senior Brandon Arconado who has started both games at the ‘Y’ inside receiver position and leads the team in receptions and receiving yards. Prior to this year Arconado mostly saw action as a special teamer and looks poised for a breakout 2019.
For better or worse this game is going to require the UH defense to go deeper at defensive back than they did the 2 weeks prior and deal with the 4-5 wide sets WSU will show often. The goal of the UH defense realistically is not to win this match-up with the WSU receivers, but do a better job than their WSU counterparts.
4.) A Texas-to-Palouse Pipeline
It shouldn’t be surprising that Washington State has at least some Texans on their roster. After all, Leach and assistants Dave Nichol and Darcel McBath all have ties to the Lone Star State. In total there are 7 Texans on the WSU roster, the majority hailing from the DFW metroplex.
But its either just over or just under 2,000 miles (depending on which city) from most of Texas’ major metro areas to even get to WSU’s campus in Pullman, Washington.
WSU’s specific location in the far southeastern corner of Washington state makes it near impossible to get a direct flight into, even if you’re coming from another locale in that part of the country. My roundabout point is that Wazzu is one of the more remotely located schools in Division 1-FBS.
Yet, both of Wazzu’s primary specialists: kicker Blake Mazza (Plano) and punter Oscar Draguicevich (Hutto) come from Texas. Redshirt freshman receiver Kassidy Woods (Adison Greenhill) played in the maximum 4 games allowed to keep his redshirt last year and has caught 5 passes for 53 yards through the Cougs’ first 2 games.
5.) Hilinski’s Hope
By all accounts Tyler Hilinski was in line to be the WSU starting QB in 2018. He saw extended action as Luke Falk’s backup in 2017 (even leading an OT comeback over Boise State) and started the Holiday Bowl. Then on January 16th Hilinski was found dead in his apartment, with the cause being a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Suicide is a difficult topic. Quite often people who are suffering don’t show any signs and are afraid to seek help for the internal struggles causing them to consider taking their own life.
This is where Hilinski’s family is trying to make a positive difference, with their charity Hilinski’s Hope. Their goal is to provide mental health education for student athletes and make resources related to mental health as available as it is for other injuries and illnesses, while de-stigmatizing mental illness.
It is a tough topic to talk about, but it’s a worthy cause and one I hope those of you reading consider supporting.