Measuring the Cougs by the numbers

NUMBERS ARE a fickle thing. By all accounts, the 2010 Cougars are vastly improved from 2009, yet they still rank at or near the bottom of the Pac-10 in numerous statistical categories. A deeper look, however, does in fact verify that this year's Cougars are much improved.

Take, for instance, scoring margin – the difference between what the Cougs average per game (20.4 points) vs. what they yield to opponents (39.9). WSU is still in negative territory by a long ways, but a full touchdown better than last season. Already the Cougs have more total points this season than they did in all of 2009.

The Cougar offense's improvement has been universal. They average nearly 18 first downs and 340 yards per game, up from 13 first downs and just 247 total yards a year ago. Quarterback Jeff Tuel's efficiency rating is 134.7, up from 121.6 last year. He's averaging 254 passing yards per game vs. 131.5 last season – a level of production that ranks WSU's passing offense No.5 in the Pac-10.

Even sacks allowed – a part of the game that seems too familiar on Cougar football Saturdays – is better this season. The Cougs are allowing 3.9 per game, down from 4.25 in 2009.

As for turnovers, WSU committed an average of 2.58 per game last season and so far this year is down to 2.12 – a level that is just slightly higher than what Cougar opponents are coughing up this season.

WHILE THE PROGRESS ON OFFENSE is clearly evident, the tale on the defensive side of the ball isn't so clear cut. The Cougs are allowing one more point per game (39.9) and the same number of first downs per game (25) as last season, while total yards given up each week is down slightly from 512 to 487.

But remember that a massive chuck of the yards and points the defense has allowed came early in the season, when Oklahoma State and USC hung a collective 115 points on them.

There are two other silver linings on defense. First, the Cougars have collected 16 sacks this season – three more than they had all of last season. And second, their two-deep depth chart on D features 15 freshmen or sophomores.

ONE AREA WHERE THE Cougars shine statistically not only in the Pac-10 but in the nation is penalties. They have committed the fewest in the conference and are among the 20 least-flagged in the country. The Cougars are on pace this season for 66 penalties for 592.5 yards, down from 80 for 681 yards last year.

WSU has also stacked up nicely this season in a number of special teams categories. They're ranked No. 5 in the conference in kickoff coverage – giving up 41.6 yards per game (vs. 67 last season), and they're No. 4 in net punting average (37.8).

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