WSU Cougars

Young WSU slotbacks taking a toughness cue from Lewis

Washington State wide receiver Brandon Arconado (19) and his teammates celebrate their win against Colorado on Oct. 21, 2017 in Pullman.
Washington State wide receiver Brandon Arconado (19) and his teammates celebrate their win against Colorado on Oct. 21, 2017 in Pullman. The Associated Press

When senior slotback Robert Lewis went down with a season-ending injury during Washington State’s preseason football workouts, coach Mike Leach lost Exhibit A in his ongoing argument that size doesn’t matter in the art of blocking.

But there’s no lack of young, smallish inside receivers on the Cougar roster, and all of them at various times embody a toughness reminiscent of Lewis.

The No. 15 Cougars (7-1, 4-1) head to Tucson, Ariz., Saturday to face Arizona (5-2, 3-1) in a conference game (6:30 p.m. PDT, Pac-12 Networks).

Perhaps because of the Cougars’ recent success, Leach has been in an especially expansive mood lately, more prone than usual to flesh out the details of some of his pet notions — for example, the proper technique for downfield blocking.

Leach was always a fan of the overachieving blocking abilities of the 5-foot-9 Lewis, and now he’s trying to develop similar skills in 5-8 second-year freshman Renard Bell, 5-11 sophomore Brandon Arconado and 5-10 true freshman Jamire Calvin, among others.

Arconado, a recruited walk-on, “went from the worst blocker I’ve ever seen to a better blocker than most of the (other) receivers,” Leach said. “As he started using his hands, he started getting out of jams and things.

“People misunderstand blocking,” the coach said. “They think blocking is about biting the guy across from them, and that’s fine. We’d all like to see the guy across from him get blown up. That’s why you have football in the first place …

“But that’s not the most important aspect of blocking. Prior to that (injury), the best blocker on the team was Robert Lewis. And one of the best blockers on the team, depending on the play — and he’s a work in progress — is Renard Bell.

“The most important thing about blocking is position — having great position, taking the spot from the other guy. … We need a guy that can mirror the guy across from him for three seconds. Now, that guy might be a linebacker guy that’s sitting there batting him (the undersized blocker) around. But he’s got a helmet on. He’s got shoulder pads on. If you can sustain it for three seconds, you win.

“So we’re in the business of sustaining it for three seconds. It has to do with taking a spot away, mirroring him and having your eyes in the right place. And reacting quickly with your feet rather than taking a huge blow and taking a chunk out of somebody. And I’ve had some small guys that are great blockers.”

He mentioned Johnnie Mack, a 5-7 running back who played for Leach at Texas Tech and is now an assistant coach at East Central in Oklahoma. Listening to Leach talk about Mack is downright cringe-inducing.

“Johnnie Mack was a great blocker,” he said. “Really strong legs. If you’re some defensive lineman and you go charging in there and you’ve got an object that’s kind of powerful, and the helmet comes up below (your) waist – you come barreling in there and that thing’s ready to explode on you below the waist. You try to avoid that guy. You hesitate. And we might get our three seconds.”

FALK ON THE VERGE

With just an average Luke Falk passing day, the WSU senior quarterback Saturday will become the most productive passer in Pac-12 history. He’s 225 yards shy of the career record of 13,600 set three years ago by Sean Mannion of Oregon State.

With an exceptional day, he can catch Matt Barkley in career touchdowns. The former USC quarterback racked up a league-record 116, and Falk’s now at 111.

Last week Falk broke the conference career total-offense record, previously held by Marcus Mariota of Oregon, and exceeded Mannion’s league career attempts mark.

More relevantly to the quarterback himself, Falk also moved ahead of Jason Gesser with his school-record 26th win as a starting quarterback.

“That’s the only stat that matters,” Falk said Tuesday. “It was a fun one to get. We’ve got to keep it going because we’re a special team and we’re nowhere near being a finished product right now.”

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