Danny Gonzales rattled off nearly every successful quarterback to play underneath Washington State head coach Mike Leach; Tim Couch (Leach was the offensive coordinator at Kentucky Couch’s Heisman-winning season), Josh Heupel, Kliff Kingsbury, Sonny Cumbie, Graham Harrell and plenty more.
“He might be the best quarterback coach in the history of this game,” Gonzales said.
The Arizona State defensive coordinator prides himself on being knowledgable. Gonzales knew every stat and ranking the Washington State offense held as he entered his weekly press conference.
Fourth in the nation in total yards (546.8 YPG), eighth in scoring (44.8 PPG) and the country’s best passing offense. Gonzales memorized it all because he wants to as informed as possible to put his players in the right position to win.
He also knows that there’s two ways to attack Leach’s Air Raid offense, and either way the offensive guru has seen it.
“He’s seen people defend him a 1,000 different ways,” Gonzales said. “Some people with a three-man rush for the majority of the game, and see if they can fool (them in) coverage. Some of them blitz to see if they can get to him before he can throw it. They’ve seen it all.”
Gonzales praised the talent of the Cougar wide receivers as well, but not for their athletic ability, rather their mind. The position group with four players already over 20 receptions through five games, are smart too in reading man versus zone coverage, when to break off routes or stop in the open space.
Running back Max Borghi also has brought in 22 receptions and led the charge in what Gonzales believes to be an improved run game over the last few years.
All that into one offense makes it understandable to see other defensive coordinators with their headsets off and scratching their heads looking for answers. It makes it even tougher because in Gonzales’ opinion outside of Harrell’s short span as the offensive coordinator at USC, no one runs the Air Raid offense like Leach.
“There’s a lot of people that run the Air Raid system,” Gonzales said. “Everybody tries to replicate the Air System, no one does it like Mike Leach.
What is the key to playing the high-powered Washington State offense? In the Cougars’ last game, a 38-13 loss to Utah, the Utes helped create a recipe that the Sun Devils hope to replicate.
Whether it takes a normal three or four-man rush or adding blitzers to be five, six-man rushes, Gonzales knows he needs to plan a way to make Washington State quarterback Anthony Gordon uncomfortable. If he doesn’t, it’ll look similar to the night Colorado’s Steven Montez had against the Sun Devils.
“We got to be around 35 percent (on third down) to be successful in where we want to be and have a good ratio,” Gonzales said. “So if we can get off the field on third down, then our offense can maintain some drives, they won’t have as many plays. We got to make sure that the quarterback is indecisive and we got to get to him and hit him so those guys don’t have to cover them all day.
“Utah did a great job of, when he broke contain, he doesn’t want to get vertical yards, like I said, but he finds guys open. They kept chasing him and they hit him hard a couple times on the three-man rush, that he felt hurried when he was running around back there. Normally, if you don’t get pressure with your three-man rush, it’s unbelievable… he ain’t even bouncing. I mean, he just stands there until somebody comes open and then they deliver it.
The return of cornerback Kobe Williams and safety Cam Phillips from injury will also boost an Arizona State secondary facing its toughest test this season. Although, none of it will matter if the Sun Devils don’t come ready for a battle in Tempe.
“It’s going to come down to effort and making plays. They know what to do because we’ve had two weeks. Assignments and effort...We’ll see. Talk the talk, we’ll see if we walk the walk.”