After starting the year 0-2, Mike Leach decided to do something he hasn’t done in a long time: He committed to running the football.
Washington State averaged 20.7 runs for 51.9 rushing yards per game in losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State. The Cougars, however, have completely flipped through the script over their last three games and have averaged 35 runs for 203 yards in wins over Idaho, Oregon and then-No. 15 Stanford. Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks all have between 37-43 carries and 3-5 rushing touchdowns on the season.
“Well, there’s not a lot of thinking that goes into it, to be perfectly honest,” Leach said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “You go out there on offense and you try to do what you can get away with. Of course the book on us is to stop the pass, which has left the run available. But the most important thing is we’ve improved on the offensive line and improved at running back to where we can do it effective. We still throw it a bunch and I would say that being able to run the ball keeps them honest, gives you a whole new dimension and thins the defense out. If you’re lucky enough to be on top late in the game, you run it to burn the clock. Some of our yards have come late, and that’s a heck of a weapon because it keeps them off the field and keeps them from coming back.”
Leach, known for his air raid offense at Texas Tech, arrived in Pullman in 2012. He had his best season last year, when the Cougars went 9-4 and beat Miami in the Sun Bowl.
“I like all of it,” Leach said of coaching at Washington State. “It’s a tough task here, but the one thing that there is here that’s tough to duplicate, it’s a real teamwork effort. There’s a real sense of everybody pulling in the same direction.”
While the first few weeks of the season were tough, Leach is happy his team has found its footing.
“We had a great offseason, we worked really, really hard, and sometimes there’s a sense that since you had a great offseason, (you’ll be fine). All that does is move the needle, but it doesn’t guarantee you anything,” he said. “We had a lot of new faces we were plugging in. But the biggest thing was we played real hard, we played frantic. We’d run sometimes the wrong direction and stuff like that. We had good effort, but it was disjointed effort and not everybody doing their job. If you can get everybody to engage in each individual play, then you get the most of it. It’s not necessarily going to be perfect, but everybody going cohesively together, I think that’s huge.”
Washington State (3-2) plays UCLA (3-3) this Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET.
“The whole conference wanted all those cats that are playing for them,” Leach said. “But the biggest thing for us is to just worry about ourselves and do what we can do and make the best plays that we can. They’re a very talented group, they’re a very physical group, they run fast and we have to try and keep them off-balanced and not waste any plays.”