Mike Leach Air Raid Offense A Dud In WSU Debut

All offseason, the hype around the Pac 12 has been about Mike Leach taking over the WSU Cougars and installing his vaunted Air Raid offense at Pullman. Wazzu was a popular dark-horse pick in the conference, Jeff Tuel and Marquess Wilson were pegged as possible Heisman candidates if everything went perfectly, and Leach himself got onto the cover of USA Today just in time for his debut yesterday…where that offense looked embarrassingly terrible against BYU in a 30-6 loss.

The WSU offense went into Provo and laid a historical egg for their new head coach. They managed just a pair of field goals, marking just the third time a Leach-led offense hasn’t found the end zone, and the first time since September 16, 2006, against TCU.

The Cougars in crimson, who ranked ninth in the country last season in passing yards per game, managed just 229 yards through the air and an embarrassing -5 yards on the ground. Jeff Tuel was sacked three times and threw a pair of interceptions, and the Cougar offense didn’t have a single run of more than three yards and made it into the red zone just one time.

So what went wrong? Just about everything…

Jeff Tuel may not have the grasp on the offense he told us he did

During the Pac 12 media days, Tuel told reporters that learning the pass-happy offense of Mike Leach wasn’t going to be a problem. It looked like one last night. Tuel looked slow, confused, and unsure of where he was going with the ball. He held on to it in the pocket for an eternity before checking it down seemingly every play. There was no attack down the field and no confidence in the offense and it turned into an outright flat performance from the senior.

The offensive line sabotaged anything positive

There were some flashes of good stuff, though…which were quickly snuffed out by the Cougars offensive line. Right before half, Tuel found wide receiver Marquess Wilson in the corner of the end zone where he made a brilliant catch…which was called back because of holding and WSU settled for a field goal to close out the half.

Then, the Wazzu special teams provided a jumpstart, returning the opening kickoff of the second half 63 yards into BYU territory, giving the offense a short field. One unblocked rusher off the end and a holding penalty later, it’s 2nd and 27 from midfield. No surprise, the Cougars couldn’t convert it.

Then late in the game, with WSU trying to mount something to save face, Tuel found Wilson down the sideline for another spectacular catch and a huge play that would put Wazzu inside BYU’s 10-yard line. But of course, it came back because of a holding penalty.

A unit that can’t get positive rushing yards on the day is not going to make a coach happy. That same unit making boneheaded mistakes that sabotage every opportunity? Expect the WSU offensive line to get plenty of “colorful” coaching this week watching this film.

Unfriendly scheduling

While most people pegged this BYU game as a winnable one for Leach and WSU, the conditions couldn’t have been much worse for them to play well. On the road in Provo, at elevation, against a program that is nothing if not stable under Bronco Mendenhall, who is packed to the gills with senior leadership isn’t exactly the tune-up game this team needed.

There was bound to be a learning curve for a team that won just four games last season installing a brand new offense with a quarterback who missed a lot of last season with injury. Nobody, especially Mike Leach judging from his reactions on the sideline, expected it to be this steep, though.

Leach assured reporters after the game that WSU isn’t as far off from clicking as they appeared to be last night. Dumb mistakes took at least 20 points off the board for the crimson Cougars. They will need to tighten things up, and in a hurry, as they face Eastern Washington next, an FCS team who has already beaten one FBS squad this season (albeit, Idaho), and would make Mike Leach’s brief tenure as WSU head coach even more uncomfortable than it is today.

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