One of the enduring images of the 2015 college football season is that of five Oregon assistant coaches running up and down the sideline with a huge sheet during the Ducks’ game against Arizona State, shielding the offense’s signals from the prying eyes of the Sun Devils.
Coaches from Oregon, Utah and Washington State accused ASU coach Todd Graham and his staff of going to extraordinary lengths to pilfer play calls before the snap. Mike Leach acknowledged that it is a concern heading into Saturday’s game at ASU.
“I’ve heard a lot of rumors of microphones to pick up extra sound, to sift and sort for sound, perhaps what the quarterback’s saying,” Leach said. “Close-up cameras, stuff like that. I don’t know if they (shoot video of) coaches on the sideline.”
Last year, Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost, who is now the head coach at Central Florida, posited that the Sun Devils were mostly looking at the Ducks’ signals to determine whether a play was a run or a pass. That would not be very effective against the Cougars, who determine whether to run the ball at the line of scrimmage after seeing the defense’s alignment.
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However, Leach very visibly signals formations and routes to quarterback Luke Falk from the sideline, so there is still a lot of information an opposing defense could glean by breaking WSU’s code.
If the Sun Devils do try to steal WSU’s signs, however, the Cougars will not be caught off guard. Leach would not divulge any sheet-like measures he might employ to keep his signs safe, but hinted that WSU will take some extra precautions.
“We’ll have to see, because that is a very unsavory practice that they have,” Leach said. “We’ll have to do what we can to defend ourselves against it. They’ll try to victimize you with some sign-stealing, there’s no question.”
MORE PASS RUSH EQUALS MORE WINS
MORE PASS RUSH EQUALS MORE WINS
The Cougars only mustered a pair of sacks over their first three games, and went 1-2 in those contests. But WSU managed six sacks over its next three games and went undefeated during that stretch.
Even though the WSU pass rushers — who still rank last in the Pac-12 in total sacks — never got a sack in the Cougars’ win over UCLA, they routinely forced quarterback Mike Fafaul to bail out of the pocket and hurried him into a pair of interceptions.
Interestingly, WSU’s newly-found pass rush is not directly because of a dominant player. Hercules Mata’afa has played well in recent weeks and leads the team with three sacks.
Pressuring quarterbacks has been a group effort for the Cougars, and the players credit improved communication for the recent success.
“When I’m lined up and I’ve got either Daniel (Ekuale) or Garrett (McBroom) there, I know that they come off the ball differently, I know they do different moves,” rush linebacker Dylan Hanser said. “So I can set that up, as far as what I’m going to do.”
COUGARS ANNOYED AT UCLA HEAD GAMES
Head games during warmups and snap-count ventriloquism were the two main complaints WSU players and coaches had about UCLA.
For the second consecutive year, the Bruins apparently broke the unwritten rule that prohibits teams from crossing midfield to do their warmups. And WSU players again took exception, puzzled that their come-from-behind win last year at Pasadena, Calif., didn’t chasten their opponent.
“I don’t know what their deal is,” WSU receiver Gabe Marks said. “They kind of come off as bad guys when they do things like that. I don’t know if they do that to everybody.”
Especially offended by such actions are Cougar players from the Los Angeles area, such as Marks, who sees them as head games related to things like the swank environs of the UCLA campus and its school colors.
He suggested the Bruins are overcompensating, “because everyone thinks that because you live in Westwood and wear baby blue that you’re not tough.”
Leach was more peeved by the UCLA defensive linemen, who he said were illegally aping the snap count of WSU quarterback Luke Falk.
Five false-start penalties were called on WSU offensive linemen, including three on center Riley Sorenson, who said “I have to be more disciplined in what I’m listening to.”
“It’s hard to stay onside with them yelling our cadence,” said Leach. “They yelled our cadence the whole game.”
As usual, Leach avoided direct criticism of officiating. But he implied that officials not only failed to prevent UCLA snap-count trickery but should have allowed a 21-yard touchdown catch by River Cracraft in the first quarter. Officials on the field and in the video booth ruled the WSU receiver dropped the ball before securing possession.
While WSU is the favorite of oddsmakers on Sunday, the Sun Devils almost never lose at home. Since Graham took over as head coach in 2012, ASU has won 80.7 percent of its games in Sun Devil Stadium. WSU has not won in Tempe since 2001. ... Saturday’s game will pit the Pac-12’s top two rushing defenses against each other. WSU currently ranks first in the conference, allowing just 104.5 rushing yards per game, while ASU allows 121.6.
The Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune contributed to this report.