WHAT IS COUGAR SPORTS WEEKLY?
Cougar Sports Weekly was a subscription email newsletter written by author Jeff Nusser that ceased publishing in October 2012. You can continue to find his work at CougCenter.com and in College Basketball Prospectus 2012-2013.
There were a couple of things that ESPN.com noted [about QB recruit Tyler Bruggman] that did stand out to me in the few minutes I was able to find.
First, Bruggman has excellent pocket awareness — he’s able to move side to side while keeping his eyes downfield to find a target. His poise is superb, and I’m guessing this is one of the things that attracted Leach to him. Leach has said he needs his quarterback to be a cool customer, able to keep his head and lead the team in difficult times. At least in terms of on-field play, Bruggman seems to fit that bill.
Secondly, he has a bit of an unorthodox delivery in which he winds up and then sort of seems to shot-put the ball. It’s different, but it doesn’t appear to limit his effectiveness. And given Leach’s own unorthodoxy (yes, that’s actually a word!), I’m guessing he could care less as long as he can do everything he needs to do effectively.
Defending modern college football offenses requires an ability to provide multiple looks in order to match their opponents’ ability to attack them in multiple ways. Flexibility is key, so simply labeling WSU’s defense a “3-4″ doesn’t do it justice — most especially because it doesn’t really seem to function like a true 3-4.
One of the keys to Breske’s defense is the “Buck” position — Long’s new spot. It’s a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position that requires the player to be equally adept rushing the passer dropping into coverage. I wanted to see how Breske is planning on using Long in this new capacity, so I went back and watched the spring game again, charting all of Long’s snaps — which side he lined up on, whether he was up or down in a three- or four-point stance, and whether he rushed the QB or dropped back. I did the same with his backup, Logan Mayes.
The more I watched, the more questions I had as I tried to understand what was going on conceptually. The questions led me to do a fair amount of research on the internet, which led me to more questions, which led me to watch the spring game for a third time. While I’ll readily admit, as usual, that I’m no coach and that it’s tough to know exactly what was intended on each play given the limited camera angles available to the layperson, I think I now have a pretty good idea what Breske’s scheme is trying to accomplish in the front seven and the role that Long and Mayes play in that.
First, let’s take a look at how Long and Mayes were used in the spring game. Here are a few easy-to-grasp charts that summarize the data. There were 50 total snaps that I was able to chart (fuzzy camerawork and the early end of the online feed conspired to keep me from charting any more).
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I compare Mike Leach’s apparent philosophy about the importance of special teams to Moneyball:
Leach clearly isn’t viewing special teams as an afterthought. He devoted a significant amount of money to hire one of the nation’s top special teams coaches, Eric Russell, away from Tennessee. And a number of other assistant coaches — notably Jeff Choate, who was Boise State’s special teams coordinator before being hired to coach the linebackers here — have deep special teams ties.
The question, then, is why? What does Leach think he sees that so many other coaches seem to miss?
This is why I used the term “Moneyball” above. If you’re familiar with Moneyball by Michael Lewis — or the movie starring Brad Pitt, which I unfortunately have not seen — you know that it centers around the statistical revolution in baseball. However, many people end up missing the big point. Moneyball was never about on-base percentage as some magical metric; it was about looking for things that actually help you win games that the competition seems to be overlooking.
There’s a good chance that’s exactly what Leach is hoping to make WSU’s special teams into.
We take a look at what Mike Leach has to say about evaluating quarterbacks in his book, “Swing Your Sword,” and apply his standards to Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday:
Says Leach, “It’s very difficult to gauge a quarterback’s intelligence from recruiting tape, but I know that guys who throw into double coverage aren’t making good decisions. What I want to see is him throwing to his receivers right on the break, or just as they find themselves wide open.”
Substitute “recruiting tape” with “watching as a fan on TV” and you’ve got our position. All we can do is apply the same two standards Leach does when he watches quarterback prospects: Is he throwing to guys who are open and is he throwing it to them as they come open?
In terms of the latter, I see this as another push between the two of them. But with regards to the former, I think this is an area where Tuel has a bit of an advantage at the moment. Among the seven full-time starters in the Pac-10 in 2010, Tuel had the lowest attempt-to-interception ratio. This jives with what I saw with my eyes, and I think part of it is due to Tuel’s ability to tuck the ball and run rather than force the ball when nobody is open.
Halliday, on the other hand, has a bit of a gunslinger mentality. Sometimes he gets away with it and throws for 500 yards. Sometimes he throws four interceptions in the first half, as he did against a Utah team that actually was prepared for him and his skill set.
Who finishes spring with the edge at QB?
Might as well get the biggest question out of the way first. The battle between Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday figures to dominate most of the headlines this spring. The quarterback is the most important player for any offense, but that’s true to an extreme in Leach’s pass-happy Air Raid.
Who’s the favorite? I think logic would point in the direction of Tuel, simply because of his experience. We also don’t yet know how healthy Halliday is after suffering that season-ending lacerated liver against Utah, but given the timeline presented shortly after the injury occurred, it’s hard to imagine him being a 100 percent today. We’ll know more about that shortly.
I will say this, though: I think it’s going to be tough for most casual observers of practice to know who’s getting the leg up just by watching. Leach needs his quarterback to be a coach on the field, and it can be tough to know where the ball was supposed to end up. Mere completion percentage isn’t going to tell the whole story. Given how coy Leach likes to be with these sorts of things, don’t expect him to tip his hand too much over the next four weeks. Besides, he doesn’t plan on naming a starter until fall.
Still, that won’t stop us from reading the tea leaves.
Why they missed 14 of their 20 free throws in the second half, I have no clue. But I do know this: That’s a good free throw shooting team that, for whatever reason, had a bad day. And that bad day just shouldn’t overshadow all the good things that happened in the game.
This is where it becomes necessary to separate process from results. The loss sucks, no doubt. But the Cougars have been putting together performances such as this with increasing frequency — holding their own on the glass, getting to the free throw line with regularity. Beyond that, a hugely overlooked aspect of this game is that WSU held Washington to it’s second-lowest offensive output of the season, just 0.87 points per possession.
In fact, if we play a little what if, we can see just how much is going right for these guys. What if the Cougars simply hit their 32 free throws attmepts at their season rate of 72 percent? They make six more free throws and score 61 points, ostensibly enough to win. If they hit their second half free throws at their normal rate, they score eight more points. Heck, how about if they just shoot their threes at their normal rate 36.5 percent instead of 11 percent, hitting four or five more, as they normally would? Blowout city.
I realize this kind of analysis sometimes rubs people the wrong way, because, you know, the Huskies could have played better, too, and the bottom line is that the team lost. But you do yourself a disservice if you don’t recognize that all the ingredients were there for a win. It just didn’t happen.
Pitchers and catchers are only just now reporting in the majors, but WSU baseball has been at it for a few weeks now in advance of their season opener on Friday at Mississippi State. In honor of the team that very well could be WSU’s most successful this year, I dedicated the opening of Monday’s Cougar Sports Weekly to them with a 1,700-word preview, a portion of which you can find below:
Returning Players Poised For A Big Breakthrough
Jason Monda, OF; J.D. Leckenby, RHP; Patrick Claussen, 3B/OF
I could list a lot of players here, but I wanted to just pick a few to keep an eye on. Monda played in the Cape Cod League this summer back on the east coast and played as one of the league’s best players: The tall lefty hit .333 in 32 games, including nine extra base hits (second on the team). He also had 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts. Expect him to man centerfield on most days, and if the power starts to come around … watch out.
Leckenby will be the team’s Friday starter (as told by Marbut to Brett Gleason over at SportsMinds.org), a revelation that makes me positively giddy. I loved watching him pitch last year — he throws a nasty sinker in the low-to-mid-90s that induces an incredible amount of weak contact, leading to a .172 batting average against and 2.28 ERA out of the bullpen last season. That he was able to do what he did by pitching to contact with the porous defense behind him shows you just how tough a time opponents had with his offerings. Leckenby didn’t strike out many batters and his 4.55 walks per nine innings is higher than you’d like; if he can improve on each of those, he won’t just be WSU’s best pitcher, he’ll be one of the best in the Pac-12. (Check out some video here – h/t to Mark Sandritter!)
I also talked a little about why the loss to Oregon was a positive development. When you subscribe, we’ll give you a link to the most recent mailing and access to our archives.