PULLMAN — According to Washington State coach Mike Leach, the former assistant he’ll be facing this week was never a yes man. That’s why they got along so well.
Leach will square off with Air Raid disciple Dana Holgorsen for the first time in the latter’s head-coaching career when WSU plays the University of Houston in a Cougars vs. Cougars matchup Friday night at NRG Stadium in Houston. Kickoff is 6:15 p.m. PDT.
The game will be televised by ESPN, and No. 20 Wazzu learned Monday the same network has also picked up its home game Sept. 21 against UCLA. That Pac-12 contest will start at 7:30 p.m.
Holgorsen has studied the Air Raid since he played for its co-authors, Hal Mumme and Leach, at Iowa Wesleyan three decades ago. When he later assisted Leach at Texas Tech for eight years, he wasn’t shy about voicing his opinion, the WSU boss said.
“Just free-form meetings,” Leach said Monday at his weekly news conference. “We want people to say what they think. You want to have as many eyes as possible and you want as much input as possible, so that you can check and test the good ideas and then purge the bad ideas.
“Which is why political correctness is so destructive in this country,” he added, “because that doesn’t happen on a broader scale. There’s not political correctness in that meeting.”
The WSU Cougars are eight-point favorites against the Houston Cougars (1-1), who are in their first season under Holgorsen. He took West Virginia to six bowl appearances in his seven years at that school.
The game is expected to be the first big test for WSU (2-0), which has rolled to 58-7 and 59-17 home routs of New Mexico State and Northern Colorado, respectively. Leach hasn’t been displeased with those performances, but he stressed the need for progress in Game 3.
“We’ve done some good things; we’ve done some things I wasn’t impressed with,” he said. “The first three games, you have the most improvement. We’re a team that desperately needs to improve. If we don’t improve, we’re going to be an incredibly average team.”
Communication has improved, he said, but the team needs to be tougher and more consistent.
“I think we need to be better at blocking, I think we need to be better at tackling, which are the ultimate fundamentals of football,” Leach said. “Without it, you’re really not very good.”
The WSU defense started somewhat slowly in each of the first two games, and last week Northern Colorado racked up 112 first-half rushing yards. Run defense will be important against Houston, which despite Holgorsen’s Air Raid lineage is running 61 percent of the time. Kyle Porter has rushed for 160 yards, and quarterback D’Eriq King is a dual threat.
Leach said his defensive line Saturday “played quick” but needs to work on pad level and “be more conscious of our gaps.”
In the WSU opener, the front seven curtailed the presnap shifts that have been part of its DNA in recent seasons. Last week they made more use of such tactics, which appeared to rattle Northern Colorado. The FBC team drew a remarkable nine false-start penalties, including three on a pivotal second-quarter possession.
In anticipation of the Friday game, WSU staged a full practice Sunday before devoting Monday to meetings. The team will go hard again today, then begin to ease up Wednesday.
Houston is coming off a 37-17 home win over Prairie View A&M on Saturday, after opening with a 49-31 loss to highly ranked Oklahoma, another Air Raid team.
Grummert may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2290.