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Offensive comradery apparent for Washington State through three games

September 17, 2018

PULLMAN – Too bad Mike Leach had already exited the interview room, because even Washington State’s coach – candid and blunt as he can be – may have cracked a smile hearing the exchange between Andre Dillard, Gardner Minshew and James Williams.

Dillard, the Cougars’ studly senior left tackle, had received a question about allowing a sack in the first quarter of Saturday’s game against Eastern Washington. The context being that WSU’s offensive line had not allowed one yet this season and not since the third quarter of last year’s Apple Cup game. Despite protecting three different starting quarterbacks, and seeing five different defenses, the O-line had astonishingly gone 278 offensive plays since last letting its passer hit the turf.

Then Minshew was dropped for the first time this season – and again two plays later.

“What went on in that situation?” a reporter asked, directing his question at Dillard.

“Miscommunication,” the veteran tackle answered, leaving it at that.

Unprompted, Minshew decided to chime in, sitting to Dillard’s left.

“Also, I was trying to do a little too much there,” the QB noted. “The offensive line did a good job for the rest of the game. … Trying to extend plays a little bit. Good plays come out of that and bad plays come out of that. You take the good with the bad and it caught up to us tonight.”

Flanking Dillard on the right, Williams also made sure reporters knew the running backs were equally to blame.

“And that was partly my fault,” the junior tailback said. “The line called a play, I looked at my guy and he dropped back. I was supposed to scan and it was a fourth down so I was tried to get out so I could make a play and I missed him. So it was probably my fault.”

Just in case anybody wondered how the Cougars were gelling with so many new faces on offense.

Saturday’s 59-24 beatdown of EWU may not have shown much in terms of how WSU will fare when the competition gets tougher, bigger and faster, but it did indicate that the Cougars might be further along at this point than many expected and once again validated Leach’s coup of Minshew, who’s been nothing short of a godsend to WSU through three games – all wins – this season.

The Cougars have scored 131 points this season – that’s one more than they scored three games into 2017 – and it’s happened behind the strength of a QB who, despite having played in a version of Leach’s Air Raid before, hadn’t thrown a pass to any of WSU’s wide receivers until May and was given three short months to learn all of their tendencies and preferences.

Adjustments have been made by all. Minshew’s mobility means he won’t be sacked as often as Luke Falk, but it also means he’s extending plays and spending more time outside of the pocket – something the O-linemen have to account for now.

Williams and the running backs also have to be become more dedicated blockers when the QB decides to take off and they have to be able to communicate effectively with Minshew when he makes checks or changes plays at the line of scrimmage.

The type of stuff that doesn’t just happen overnight. Ask any number of Pac-12 programs who are also dealing with QB changes. UCLA, Oregon State and even WSU’s next opponent, USC, have not been as successful as the Cougars, and their records show it.

But Minshew and his new teammates have made it look like a breeze – particularly Saturday evening.

“We’ve got a lot of communication this year,” Williams said. “We’re able to fix (mistakes), so it doesn’t happen again.”

Echoed Minshew: “I think this week of practice we did a good job of – when things started going wrong – coming together. Getting everybody, wide receivers, running backs, O-line, quarterbacks, together just knowing we’re going to right the ship.”

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