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No. 20 Washington St visits Houston in Air Raid reunion

By TIM BOOTHSeptember 12, 2019
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Houston coach Dana Holgorsen applauds during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Prairie View on Saturday. Sept. 7, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Houston coach Dana Holgorsen applauds during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against Prairie View on Saturday. Sept. 7, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Dana Holgorsen’s first impression of Mike Leach dates all the way back to the early 1990s.

Holgorsen was a wide receiver at tiny Iowa Wesleyan.

His offensive coordinator?

“I remember seeing that funny-looking guy with sweat pants, a sweat shirt, and hair everywhere,” Holgorsen recalled. “That was the genius Mike Leach back in the day.”

Nearly 30 years since they first connected in Iowa, the duo will face off as head coaches for the first time Friday night when Leach’s 20th-ranked Cougars face Houston in Holgorsen’s first season in charge.

They’re old friends who spent years working together, first at Valdosta State and later at Texas Tech. They each became successful head coaches— Leach at Texas Tech and Holgorsen at West Virginia.

Now they are in the second chapters of their head-coaching careers and they’re finally meeting as opponents. One of the originators of the “Air Raid,” along with Hal Mumme, and one of his disciples who has created his own version of the offense.

“Mike Leach has been doing the same stuff forever. If there is one thing that is admirable about him it’s that as much as people have evolved, he has pretty much continued to do that same stuff,” Holgorsen said. “There has never been a playbook, but there has been books written about how it’s developed and those were the guys that were the beginning stages of what it was.”

Leach and Holgorsen have remained close since their time together at Texas Tech ended more than a decade ago. But Leach said he’s not getting caught up in the context of facing one of his former assistants.

“I’ve done that so many times I would be wasting my time to develop much attention and energy to that,” Leach said. “I’ve got an awful lot of coaches out there around the country and it’s pretty tough — whether they’re assistants or head coaches — it’s pretty tough to be too concerned with that portion of it.”

When Leach and the Cougars (2-0) arrive in Texas, they’ll be facing their first test of the season after easy wins over New Mexico State and Northern Colorado at home. The start has given new quarterback Anthony Gordon a chance to give Washington State a so-far flawless transition from last year when Gardner Minshew was running the show in Pullman.

Gordon has thrown for nine touchdowns and one interception through the first two games.

Houston (1-1) opened by getting overrun at Oklahoma before bouncing back last week with an easy win over Prairie View A&M.

Other things to watch for as the schools meet for the first time since the 1988 Aloha Bowl:

MAD MAX: Washington State’s Max Borghi posted the first 100-yard rushing game by a Cougars running back since 2016 when he went for 128 yards in the season opener. He ran for two touchdowns last week. But it’s his ability as a pass catcher out of the backfield that Washington State wants to see more of. Borghi has just five receptions through two games after catching 53 passes last season. Look for Washington State to find ways to get Borghi the ball in space against Houston.

HE’S THE KING: Houston QB D’Eriq King is still figuring out the best way to operate in Holgorsen’s system. Last year, King accounted for 50 total touchdowns for Houston and he was dynamic in the season opener against Oklahoma, rushing for 103 yards and a score and throwing for 167 yards and two TDs. He’ll need another game like that against Washington State for Houston to have a chance at the upset.

GROUND ATTACK: Another sign of how Holgorsen’s offense has evolved, Houston has one of the better running attacks in the country. Houston is averaging 238 yards per game on the ground, good for 26th nationally. While a big day on the ground was expected against Prairie View, it’s what Houston did in the opener against Oklahoma that stands out. Houston rushed for 241 yards against the Sooners and now faces a Washington State defense that gave up 216 yards rushing last week to an FCS opponent.

Kyle Porter rushed for a career-best 120 yards last week for Houston.

BACK TO TEXAS: Leach is 1-0 in his career at NRG Stadium after beating Navy in the Texas Bowl in 2003 while at Texas Tech. He’s also won in his past two trips to Texas with Washington State. The Cougars beat Miami in the 2015 Sun Bowl in El Paso and last year beat Iowa State 28-26 in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio.

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