PROVO — We sent five questions to Washington State beat reporter Christian Caple of the Spokesman-Review. Caple knows what to expect from this Washington State football team as much as anyone, having covered them intently leading up to Mike Leach's first game.
1. What is the excitement level with WSU fans now that Mike Leach is head coach?
It’s pretty much at an all-time high, and it’s been that way since the day he was hired. He’s been an instant energizer and I think that feeling’s only grown over the last nine months.
People have accepted the fact that Leach is, in fact, their coach, and they’ve gone from simply enjoying his celebrity to actually being intrigued at what he’s going to put on the field. You see a lot of talk about all the records he set at Texas Tech and I think that’s kind of the expectation for this season — that WSU is going to be an offensive force, and that their quarterbacks, receivers, etc., are going to lead the Pac-12 in a bunch of statistical categories.
2. Will Leach run exactly the same offense he ran while at Texas Tech?
He’s always tweaking it, I think, but his offense is his offense and there’s only so much you can change. It’s the Air Raid and it always will be. They’re going no-huddle out of the shotgun and they’re going to throw the ball 50 times per game. That’s a given.
And he really doesn’t have to tailor it much to his personnel, either, because the receivers they have are so diverse in their skill sets that he can basically just put the best four guys out there and they fit what he needs. They’ve got a big, tight-end type body in Andrei Lintz. They’ve got a long, fast, speed guy in Marquess Wilson on the outside. And they have a number of smaller guys who have the hands and the quicks to play in the slot.
3. What changes has he brought to the defense?
Well, he hired Mike Breske as his defensive coordinator, and Breske pretty much has 100 percent autonomy on that side of the ball. They’ve switched from a 4-3 base to a 3-4, though they’re going to be pretty multiple in their packages. I think you’ll see cornerbacks playing a lot more 1-on-1 man coverage on an island, which will give them the chance to blitz a little more than in years past.
Leach’s biggest interaction with the defense was probably when he dismissed potential starting linebackers C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi, as well as senior defensive lineman Anthony Laurenzi, for violating team policy. It hurt their depth and their experience, but pretty much everyone agrees that it was a positive in that it set a tone for the rest of the team.
4. Who are the play-makers on both sides of the ball? Who can cause BYU some trouble?
Offensively, Marquess Wilson is their go-to receiver, though Leach is big on ball distribution so it’s not like they’re just going to be feeding it to Wilson over and over. But he’s proven in his first two seasons that he’s one of the best receivers in the country and might be the most dangerous deep threat in the conference. His speed and explosiveness make him a touchdown threat on every play.
Defensively, Travis Long is their best player. He played defensive end the past three seasons but has switched to the hybrid “buck” linebacker position in Breske’s base 3-4. He has more coverage responsibilities now, but also rushes the passer plenty and you’ll see him put his hand on the ground and play defensive end, too. He’s long, fast, and experienced, and looks like a pretty natural fit at that hybrid spot.
5. What do fans expect for this first game against BYU? What do you, as someone who has covered them closely, expect?
I think the expectation is that it will at least be competitive. There are some who think BYU might be a little over-hyped, even though they did win 10 games last year and have a lot more experience than WSU does. I think a lot of folks are viewing this as a barometer for the season. If they go down and compete — win or lose — then it bodes pretty well for the rest of the season, given the adversity that comes from playing your opener on the road and everything. That’s probably the key. Can they handle the crowd? Can they execute their new stuff in a hostile environment against an experienced team that knows how to win? That’s what people are waiting to find out, I think. Include me among them.