Under head coach Mike Leach, Washington State’s offense has turned into one of the top units in the Pac-12. With Luke Falk under center, the Cougar’s “Air-raid” passing attack at times seems unstoppable.
The former walk-on, and former teammate/childhood friend of head coach Gary Andersen’s twins, has continued to flourish in the Palouse, turning a once doormat in the Pac-12 into one of the conference’s best teams.
“Coach Leach has said to me 10 times, ‘how did you not take that guy?’” said Andersen.
With wide receivers like Gabe Marks, River Cracraft and Tavares Martin Jr. in the fold this year, the defensive secondary will tested to not give up the big play. Something they struggled with last week against Washington.
“(Washington State) can have a big play at any time,” said cornerback Xavier Crawford. “When you put the ball in the air that many times there’s always a time for a big play, so we have to make sure we stay disciplined in our coverage.”
As good as Falk has been in his 24 games played in a Cougar uniform, throwing for 70 touchdowns against 20 interceptions, 8,931 passing yards with a 69.3 completion percentage, he isn’t the sole reason that Wazzu looks even more dangerous on offense than years past.
Washington State can beat teams running the ball. Just ask Oregon.
“They found a way, maybe it’s they got more linemen in the program, maybe the backs have figured it out, whatever it is, they are running the ball better,” Clune said. “It makes it more difficult on how you got to stop the run and the pass, and again, that’s just something we need to be prepared for.”
In 2015 the Cougar offense was one-dimensional. Falk, along with receivers Marks, Cracraft and Dom Williams had the passing game humming. But the running game was lacking, finishing last in the conference averaging only 80.5 yards per game on the ground, and finishing with only eight rushing scores (three of which came from Falk).
Now in 2016, Washington State is no longer the 12th best rushing attack in the conference--they are now 11th. But the Cougars are rushing for 112.7 yards per game (30 yard improvement) and have doubled their rushing touchdowns with 17 through seven games.
The improved balance has taken an offense that averaged just over 30 points per game a season ago, to one that is now putting up 40 points per game.
Much of the reason for the improved rushing attack is the play from the offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, the Cougars the second-highest rated o-line in the country. PPF also has four Cougar linemen rated in the top-15 nationally at their position, which guard Cody O’Connell who is the highest-rated guard in the country.
“They work well as a unit, they can make their call and they are big,” said defensive end Phillip Napoleon. “They can do their job with 100 percent teamwork and work together to make the calls they need to make.
Washington State doesn’t just have a talented offensive line, the way they execute their pass protections are unique. So unique that Napoleon hasn’t played against an offensive that executes the way the Cougars do.
“They move laterally really well, better than a lot of teams we have seen this year so that’s a good thing for their run game,” said Clune.