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Washington State Offensive Preview: Line Wins Games

The Big Uglies are the reason Washington State has seen increased success this season.

NCAA Football: Idaho at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

This week the Bruins take on the Washington State Cougars at 7:30 in Pullman. If you ask me, football games in Pullman should never start at 7:30, but at least it’s still October and shouldn’t be all that cold. After opening the season with losses to Eastern Washington and Boise State, the Cougars have stepped up their play in the conference season. They hadn't beaten a team ranked in the AP top 15 since knocking off No. 5 Texas in the 2003 Holiday Bowl.

When I first started researching the offense that took down Stanford last week, the first thing that popped up were multiple sites about the famed "Air Raid Offense" that Mike Leach made so popular at Texas Tech and now Wazzu. LaVell Edwards also had a version of the same thing at BYU, and in all three cases, the coaches have enjoyed success. Starting quarterback Luke Falk already has over 1,800 yards in the air (Rosen has over 1,900, which shocked me) and a 74.1 completion percentage (Rosen’s has dropped to just over 59%). On the flip side, the Cougs have 746 total rushing yards so far this season (UCLA is in the basement with 595). So obviously there is an emphasis on passing, but it’s also clear they have the ability to run the ball too, something that UCLA has been lacking. The biggest difference has got to be in the offensive line, which is stacked with upperclassmen.

According to an article in The Spokesman-Review, the five guys up front are the unsung heroes in Washington State’s recent success. Staff writer Jacob Thorpe reported after Wazzu’s win over Oregon:

For the first time in his career, Falk got to work around big, open, expansive pockets. The kind of pockets you can step up into, change the angle of a pass and fire darts all over the field. That’s what he did, completing 75 percent of his passes keeping a relatively clean jersey.

And the WSU groups that could pass block well probably could not pave the way for 508 rushing yards over two games, like this group has. Against Oregon on Saturday three WSU running backs rushed for 7.8 yards per carry, and were only tackled behind the line of scrimmage three times in 35 attempts.

Music to my ears. This is clearly what we’re missing and why Adrian Klemm needs to go. You can’t argue with this. You don’t have to break down Washington State’s offense very much to figure out why they’ve been so successful. No one on the team is in the Heisman talk. Their quarterback is not a high first round draft pick. It’s all because of a solid front five. Line wins games—the Cougars are proof.

If you want more numbers, Falk ended the 2015 season with -115 rushing yards. Yes, MINUS 115. That means he was running for his life. This year, he has a whopping six yards, which isn’t impressive, but moving the needle in the right direction.

The Cougs also have a running game to compliment their Air Raid offense. Redshirt junior Gerard Wicks has 197 yards on the ground and five touchdowns, alongside redshirt freshman James Williams, who has 259 yards and four touchdowns so far this year. So not all of their touchdowns are scored in the air. I guess it makes sense to have a run game to compliment your passing game. Huh...

You might be wondering who the heck Falk is passing to. Early in the season, ESPN actually ranked Washington State #1 in the Pac 12 at the wide receiver position, even with the departure of junior wideout Kyrin Priester. Right now, there are five receivers with over 100 yards, and two of those have over 300 yards. Senior River Cracraft tops the receiving corps with 317 yards receiving, including a 130 yard game against Stanford last weekend. Redshirt senior Gabe Marks has 301 yards and six touchdowns so far this year, and Sophomore Tavares Martin, Jr. has 291 yards so far and was also on kick return duties earlier in the season. Don’t get me wrong, UCLA definitely has a stable of receivers, but I don’t hear Washington State fans complaining about dropped passes.

Saturday is going to be a tough game, and I don’t remember the last time I was worried when we played Washington State. UCLA definitely has a tough defense to battle with the Air Raid offense, but after watching us last week against Arizona State and having a banged up starting quarterback, I don’t know that we have an offense that can out up enough points to beat these guys. There are going to have to be major changes both physically and mentally this week for that to happen.

Go Bruins!