Jim McElwain says the balance he likes for the Colorado State offense stems from the different stops he's made along his coaching path, with the greatest influence coming from Nick Saban at Alabama.
On the other hand, Washington State coach Mike Leach has made a living out of spreading defenses out and throwing the ball all over the stadium on Saturday. The basis for him came from putting together two completely different concepts from different eras -- BYU's passing attack and the wishbone offense.
And it's a concoction Leach has had a lot of success with through the years. It's helped Washington State (6-6) get to a bowl game for the first time in a decade, and Colorado State (7-6) has had two weeks to figure out how to handle it when the teams meet in Saturday's Gildan New Mexico Bowl (noon: ESPN).
While a marriage of LaVell Edwards and Emory Bellard seems very Hatfields and McCoys, Leach makes it sound so very logical. Throwing the ball stretches the field and the wishbone offers diversity in using all the available skill positions.
"So then after that, it became a combination of what's the best way to attack the spots of the field and what's the best way to get the ball into all of the skill position hands. Then at some point you select plays and develop your skills around them," he said. "I guess why not do it like the wishbone, because the distribution I liked a lot. The distinction in my case was I felt like we could be downfield a little better."
Quarterback Connor Halliday has found a way to distribute the ball (10 different Cougars have at least 25 catches) and get it down field. He enters the game 64 attempts shy of the breaking the FBS record of 719 attempts in a season, set by another Leach quarterback, B.J. Symons at Texas Tech in 2003. It seems like a lot of throws, but then again, the Cougars averaged 58 passes a game and Halliday threw 89 times in a loss to Oregon.
He's fourth in the nation averaging 348.9 yards per game, with 28 touchdowns against 21 interceptions. It is a quick-passing game, based on timing and in theory it helps the Cougars slow down a CSU strength (pass rush) and attack a weakness (the Rams rank 109th in the nation against the pass).
On the other sideline, McElwain prefers to keep things mixed up with the idea of keeping defenses guessing. The Rams are the only team in the country with a 3,200-yard passer (Garrett Grayson) and a 1,500-yard rusher (Kapri Bibbs), giving WSU's defense plenty to think about.
Overall, the Cougars have been susceptible to both, allowing 184 yards on the ground and 262.2 through the air.
"They have a great offense. They're very balanced," said WSU's All-American safety Deone Bucannon. "They can run and pass. They have a really good running back, real good quarterback and a good tight end and good center from what I was watching. That tells me they're sound, all across the board, from top to bottom. It's definitely going to be a challenge to go out there and play them. We're going to do what we can do. It's going to be a great thing."