The Mike Leach era officially kicks off tonight at 7:15 p.m. as WSU faces Brigham Young University in a match up of "Cougars" that will be nationally televised on ESPN.
WSU enters LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, looking to even up the series against BYU, which holds an all-time 2-1 edge in the match up.
Although the two schools last met in 1990, there is a lot of familiarity for Head Coach Mike Leach heading into tonight’s contest.
After a brief two-year stint not coaching, Leach finds himself back where it all began. He graduated from BYU in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies, and he credits the foundation of his coaching philosophy to former BYU Head Coach LaVell Edwards, who coached the team from 1972 to 2000.
"He's easily one of the greatest coaches that ever coached, I think that's indisputable," Leach said.
Leach first gained his infatuation for passing the ball while watching BYU spring practices with then assistant coaches Roger French and Norm Chow.
“As they were throwing the ball all over the place it influenced me directly,"Leach said."It is a core of a lot of the things we do offensively, in general the philosophy of attacking the whole field.”
Leach said he still uses some of those offensive schemes in his own Air-Raid attack for WSU, something that could appear against his alma mater later tonight.
"I think offensively, we may look more BYU than BYU does, if you reflect on the LaVell Edwards days,” Leach said. “There’s plays out there that we got, and maybe we don’t run it exactly like, but we got from the golden age back there in BYU when LaVell Edwards wa Emma Holmberg / The Daily Evergreen s there.”
Leach will likely need all the help he can get as he prepares to face the BYU Cougars, a team that has won five straight season openers and returns 14 starters from a squad that finished 10-3 and ranked No. 25 in the nation in 2011.
"They're a good team, like they always are,"Leach said."They're a team that has a tradition of winning for several decades. They're not trying to reinvent the wheel. They're just doing the same stuff they've done over the years.”
The game will be a classic matchup of strength against strength as BYU boasts a stifling defense that finished No. 13 in the nation in total yards allowed for the 2011 season. WSU’s offense finished ninth in passing yards.
The key to the game, however, will be the performance of the young and inexperienced WSU defense. In 2011, the unit gave up an average of 31.8 points per game and ranked toward the bottom of the NCAA in yards allowed.
The defense will be tested early and often, as they attempt to slow down senior quarterback Riley Nelson. Nelson led BYU to a 6-1 record as a starter in 2011, throwing for 1,717 yards, 19 touchdowns and adding in 392 yards rushing. He joins WSU’s Jeff Tuel on the Davey O’Brien Award preseason watch list, which is given to the nation's top quarterback at season's end.
“(Nelson) moves his feet pretty good, and is a guy that can get out of the pocket and hurt you when you feel like you got him hemmed in a little bit,” Leach said.
The defense will also have to contain Nelson’s favorite target, junior wide receiver Cody Hoffman. Standing 6-foot-4, 208 pounds, Hoffman finished the 2011 season with 61 catches for 943 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Tonight’s game will be the first test for a team looking to break an eight-year bowl drought following an off season of building optimism and expectations.
WSU fans that don’t have the ESPN channel can catch the game at Beasley Coliseum, where the game will be projected on the stadium's big screens. The doors will open at 6:30 p.m.