PULLMAN – Washington State coaches have put a lot on Kyle Sweet’s plate throughout his career, so it shouldn’t be a surprise coach Mike Leach entrusted his slot receiver-slash-punt returner-slash-rugby punting specialist to spearhead a sequence of trick plays that had television viewers frantically pressing rewind on their remote controls during the third quarter of Saturday’s opener at Wyoming.
Shortly after crossing midfield with about eight minutes left in the period and WSU trailing 19-13, the Cougars rolled out their variation of the classic “swinging gate” formation. Not once, but twice.
With all 11 offensive players jammed between the left hash mark and left sideline, Sweet, the center, positioned himself over the hash and performed a one-handed snap, diagonally, toward quarterback Gardner Minshew. Running back James Williams cut in front to catch the direct snap, then followed a cluster of blockers for a 5-yard gain. The Cougars executed it again on the next play, netting 4 more yards.
The concept that produced the 9 most interesting yards of Saturday’s 41-19 WSU victory was not devised during one of Leach’s long strolls to work – often used as brainstorm sessions – or conceived while the coach was scribbling out his thoughts late at night in the Cougar Football Complex.
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In fact, it was a collaboration between the offensive-minded WSU coach and someone who has no apparent football background, other than a deep appreciation and enthusiasm for the game.
“I know this engineer from Microsoft and he likes football and says, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about this?’” Leach said. “One of those idea guys. Very brilliant guy. He’s got a lot of ideas. So he came up with a bunch of formations and pretty good ideas and said they’d be interesting. Got me thinking, so basically on the enthusiasm and energy of some of his thoughts, what he saw, we thought we’d mess with it and it was fun for our players and things.”
The play has a name, too: “Big Gulp Left.”
The seventh-year WSU coach described that as an homage to “a friend of mine,” but anyone who followed along with the summer Twitter feud between Leach and Dan Wolken knows it’s a subtle jab at the USA Today columnist. Wolken was critical of Leach when the coach tweeted out a doctored video of a Barack Obama speech in June.
Perturbed with the column, Leach, in a Q&A with The Seattle Times, said Wolken would “probably be selling Big Gulps here in a couple years.”
The coach reiterated that opinion Monday in his weekly news conference.
“There’s this guy, this national guy that thinks he’s an expert on everything, which I don’t really think he is,” Leach said. “I figured we’d name the deal after him. And that friend of mine I do believe will end up selling Big Gulps at some point.”
Leach, who co-authored the Air Raid offense with Hal Mumme at Iowa Wesleyan, said it wasn’t the first time he’s solicited advice from a non-football mind. When he was an assistant coach at NCAA Division III Valdosta State, Leach said he occasionally received pointers from a building janitor, who made some particularly astute observations about the body language and footwork of Leach’s offensive linemen.
“He would come in and say, ‘I think the linemen they’re having trouble just because it seems like we move our feet, but he used to get deeper when they’d set up,’” Leach said. “You’d go back and watch film and you’re looking at it and all the sudden he’s right.”