Arizona State beat the Cougars by twice blitzing straight up the middle, a huge risk that momentarily confused Washington State's offensive line and forced quarterback Ryan Leaf into two fumbles, both of which were returned for touchdowns. "They could have just as easily burned us," says Snow. The Sun Devils didn't exactly shut down Price's offense: Leaf threw for 447 yards, including 371 in the second half.
For the season, Leaf, a 6'5", 238-pound junior, threw for 3,637 yards and 33 touchdowns and was second in the nation in passing efficiency. "He could coach this offense by now," says Price. Leaf's job is simple in concept: Read the secondary and throw to where the fewest defenders are. Easy. "It's only hard when some guy is running at you trying to rip your f——— head off," says Price. Leaf was good enough that he completed at least 20 passes to each of five receivers (Washington State's Fab Five). "When everybody's hot, we're pretty tough to stop," says Black.
It will all be very new to Michigan. Purdue, under first-year coach Joe Tiller, a Price assistant at Washington State from 1989 to '90, tore up the Big Ten with the one-back, averaging 459.6 yards per game, but the Wolverines didn't play the Boilermakers, and the rest of the conference was relentlessly conservative. "Michigan definitely hasn't seen a quarterback who can dial it in there like Leaf." says Childress. The Wolverines will have to figure out how to cover the Cougars' two slot receivers, Kevin McKenzie and Shawn Tims, who together caught 76 passes. "Does Michigan have enough corners to play man-to-man on those guys?" says Snow.
"Michigan is solid, but if it has to cover Tims or McKenzie with a linebacker, it's in trouble." says Leaf. "The fact is, Michigan is going to have to be in nickel or dime most of the time, which it hasn't been all year."
It will be vital for the Wolverines to pressure Leaf with no more than a five-man rush. After a December practice Cougars wideout Chris Jackson tasted the possibilities and counted the days. "Can I use my size against Woodson?" he said. "Can they cover our slotbacks? Can they get Ryan to the ground or will he just shed them?" His eyes flashed. "Can't wait," he said. "Can't wait to see."
Neither can one old coach. An hour up the Ventura Freeway from Pasadena. Jack Neumeier will watch the Rose Bowl on TV in his home in Camarillo. He always watches teams that run what he calls his stuff. Michigan has shiny new keys. His old offense is the padlock.