PULLMAN — Even though COVID-19 has kept them away from Martin Stadium for an indefinite period of time, the Washington State Cougars have been taking a virtual crash course in Nick Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense, hoping they’ll be better prepared when they get the green light to resume normal football activities.
“I think offensively, yes, there’s some installing going,” said Rolovich, who was named WSU’s 33rd football coach on Jan. 13. “There was some installation going just talking about schemes with our guys before we were scheduled to have spring ball. But this has given us a chance to really harp on the details of the foundation of what we want to do offensively. Landmarks, splits, releases. And not really throw a bunch of concepts at them, but really get the foundation.
“They’re getting a little bit more every day. But the opportunity to give them quizzes has seemed to be a positive for our coaching staff, also working with Blackboard. … It’s really forced coaches to get outside their comfort zone in their teaching approach. A lot of the day is spent recruiting at this time, too.”
It’ll be crucial for the Cougars to “buy in” to the new offensive system, Rolovich said, but he expects there will also be some carryover from the Air Raid Mike Leach employed in the eight years prior, which could help ease the learning curve.
For the WSU quarterbacks, it’ll be vital to maintain relationships with wide receivers — both on the field and away from it. The run-and-shoot offense is largely predicated on a receiver’s ability to diagnose a coverage and alter his route accordingly, so it’s essential QBs and WRs are on the same page.
“That’s important and we encourage it a bunch,” Rolovich said. “Accuracy and it really comes down to who moves the ball down the field and puts it into the end zone.”
When the Cougars are back on the field, the two returning scholarship QBs — redshirt sophomore Cammon Cooper and redshirt freshman Gunner Cruz — will be challenged by incoming freshman Jayden de Laura, who grew familiar with the run-and-shoot while playing at Honolulu’s Saint Louis High. How the Cougars divvy up reps to identify a starter will be something Rolovich evaluates as fall practice approaches.
“I think you’ve got to try to get three guys ready, so there will be a lot of routes on air, so there will be a lot of opportunities for throws,” Rolovich said. “We really do need to evaluate our process because without spring ball, you don’t have those 15 practices and you don’t have those reps for all those quarterbacks.”
COVID-19 prompted the NCAA to implement a recruiting dead period, limiting coaches to phone, text and social media communication with potential prospects.
“What I’ve learned is, I think people need to get to Washington State to really appreciate the fullness of its greatness,” Rolovich said. “I think we would’ve liked to have a bunch of kids on campus by now and I think — again, we can’t control it — that’s one of the things where I’ve learned is, if people come here I think they have a much greater appreciation for the values, the opportunities, the environment than what they perceive from afar.”
For now, Rolovich’s staff has adjusted. The coach’s family traveled to Pullman for spring break and opted not to return home to Hawaii due to coronavirus-related travel concerns.
Rolovich’s twin boys — William and Patrick, born in 2013 — “are helping me write letters to recruits,” the coach said, “so that’ll be good, they get their handwriting in and their coloring in.”
“It’s different for the recruits to get a kid’s drawing on a card. Maybe it’ll brighten their day.”