As a former assistant at Washington State under Mike Leach, Huskies defensive line coach and special-teams coordinator Jeff Choate has a unique perspective on the annual Apple Cup game. He talked Tuesday about the game, the evolution of Washington State’s offense, and gave an update on the status of injured starting nose tackle Elijah Qualls.
(Do the coaches buy into the rivalry stuff at all, or is it just another game?) “I think we feel the urgency too. I recruit in-state and I’m a Northwest native, so this is a game that I’ve paid attention to for a long time, and so I think it’s really important for us to have momentum. We don’t want to be the guys that are walking around this state wearing purple and everybody else talking about how the Cougs won. That’s a huge goal for this program, is to make sure we keep the Apple Cup in Seattle, and it’s a very important game, not only for us as coaches and the players on both sides, but obviously also for the alumni and the community.”
(On making sure emotion doesn’t trump execution) “I think that’s always something you’ve got to battle. We kind of talk about the performance anxiety curve – you’ve got to have a high level of focus, but also a high level of intensity, and you can’t let one override the other. If you’re not intense enough and you have plenty of focus, you’re a little lackadaisical. If you’re way over the board in the intensity, you’re probably not going to have the attention to detail and the execution you need.”
(On WSU’s offense) “I think they do a really nice job of kind of mixing things up. I think they’ve done a better job of running the ball a little bit more consistently. I think their screen game is much improved, which slows the rush down, and when they know they’re getting heat, they do a really good job of getting the ball out. I think their system allows the quarterback to get comfortable and know where he’s going with the ball, and regardless of who plays quarterback, we know they’re going to throw it, and they’re going to throw it efficiently.”
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(How are they different than when you were there?) “They look quite a bit different. A lot of the same guys – especially on the O-line, a lot of those guys were playing as young guys over there, or on the scout team that I was working with. They look different. They definitely do. I think they’re a more mature football team. They’ve got a couple wrinkles on offense. I remember him talking about he didn’t believe in empty or motion, and they’re doing both now. He’s kind of evolved a little bit, and I think that’s helped them on offense. Obviously they’ve gotten tremendous play out of their perimeter guys. I think their running backs have been very good. I think their o-line’s very improved. Probably the biggest difference, we follow these guys in a lot of games, and I have a vested interest because I recruited a lot of those kids on the defensive side, and they’ve really done a nice job of tightening their scheme on the defensive side.”
(On facing WSU’s wide offensive line splits) “I’d say it’s just one of those things where we can’t fall into a false sense of security. I think we’ve got to do a good job of keeping our eyes on our keys. A lot of times when they’re moving, you can have a tendency to get out of your fits, especially if they’re going sideways in the run game. When they’re in their vertical pass sets, you’ve got to resist the temptation to do a whole lot of dancing. I tell our guys all the time, don’t cha-cha. We’ve just got to get into our man and hit our fit. Don’t worry about being fancy in pass rush. It’s just about collapsing the pocket and doing a good job of keeping it dirty.”
(So no barrel rolls this year?) “That wasn’t fancy in pass rush, that was pre-snap. Danny was the 12th overall pick in the draft. You earn a little bit of credibility to do that kind of stuff.”
(It would help to get Elijah Qualls back …) “He’s practiced this week, and I think you’re going to see him in the game.”