When No. 25 Iowa State faces 12th-ranked Washington State in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Friday in San Antonio, it won’t be the first time the Cyclones have played against a variation of Mike Leach’s prolific “Air Raid” passing offense.
Big 12 opponents Oklahoma with coach Lincoln Riley and West Virginia under coach Dana Holgorsen are Leach disciples with Leach’s wide-open offense that includes a one-back scheme in which the running back is as much of a receiving threat as the four other receivers.
The Cyclones (8-4) held the Mountaineers to 14 points and NFL-bound quarterback Will Grier compiled only 100 yards through the air, with one touchdown and one interception in Iowa State’s 30-14 win on Oct. 13. In Oklahoma’s 37-27 win over Iowa State on Sept. 15, the Sooners and Heisman winner Kyler Murray scored nearly 13 points lower than the season average for college football’s top offense.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has also learned Leach’s coaching philosophies by reading Leach’s book, “Swing Your Sword.”
“I did have the opportunity to read his book. I’ve got so much respect for what coach has done not only at Washington State but at Texas Tech and the way he’s come up and built programs,” Campbell said. “So just a lot of respect and certainly enjoyed reading the book.”
Washington State (10-2) is led by the nation’s top quarterback, fifth-year senior graduate transfer Gardner Minshew, who is on track to break Jared Goff’s single-season Pac-12 passing record of 4,714 yards.
The fifth-year graduate transfer — who leads the nation in passing — needs only 238 yards to set the record. The amount of yards needed to break Connor Halliday’s single-season school record is 120 yards.
The domed venue should be advantageous for Minshew and the Cougars’ offense, which managed 300-plus yards in the air in the first 11 games of the season before the Apple Cup blizzard against Washington (a game the Cougars lost 28-15 at Pullman, Wash.).
“For me, I’ve got a lot of respect as a young coach looking at coaches that have sustained success and coaches that build programs, and I think sometimes in our profession there’s guys that are trying to be somebody or guys that are trying to do something,” Campbell said. “And from afar, watching coach Leach and how he’s built his programs and the way he’s done it has been really impressive.”
Leach is equally complimentary of Campbell, who coached the Big 12’s second-best defense this season that includes pro prospect cornerback Brian Peavy, an All-American candidate.
The Cyclones allow only 351 yards per game. They also give up just 228 passing yards per game, which is second-best in the Big 12.
Iowa State also has a 1,000-yard receiver in 6-foot-6 NFL prospect Hakeem Butler, who has nine touchdown receptions this season.
“The biggest thing is, they just keep playing extremely hard,” Leach said of Iowa State. “Whether you’re on offense or defense, you face a certain amount of adversity, and one of the biggest strengths I think they have is they just keep playing no matter what and just relentlessly till the clock says (zero), and I think that’s one of the highest compliments you can give any team or any side of the ball.”
Pac-12 teams have appeared in the Alamo Bowl 11 times and have a 4-7 record. The league is just 2-6 in the Alamo Bowl since the game began pitting the Pac-12 against the Big 12 in 2010. The Cougars have won their only other appearance in the Alamo Bowl, beating Baylor 10-13 in 1994.
This is the first meeting between the Cougars and the Cyclones.
Washington State is a 3-point favorite.