What's Air Raid add up to in points on board?

IN ALL THE fanfare that has accompanied Mike Leach's arrival at Washington State and the promise of a record-smashing air game, there's been an overlooked fact that suggests the Cougars' new passing game will be even greater than one might think: The offense Leach inherits was one of the 10 most prolific passing attacks in the nation last season.

In other words, the high-octane aerial show Leach is bringing to WSU is going to (pardon this non-aerial metaphor) hit the ground running because he's not starting from scratch.

This was not an offense built on traps, counters and sweeps. With backups running the show for all but 1 ½ games last season, the Cougars finished the year ranked No. 9 in the nation in passing.

They averaged 323 air hashes per game -- with Jeff Tuel mostly on the shelf.

If left only to reading national media reports since Leach's arrival in Pullman, one would never know that WSU already was one of the nation's top passing schools. Shoot, I'm not even sure how many Cougar fans knew, or remembered, that WSU was No. 9 in passing this past season.

That elevated starting point from which Leach launches isn't to suggest his impact in the passing game won't be as big as everyone expects. It should, actually, be massive.

The difference between being the ninth-most productive air offense in the nation and being an Air Raid offense is a good thousand yards-plus.

It starts with the number of times the ball is in the air. The 2011 Cougars threw 56 percent of the time, while the 2012 Cougs figure to be airborne a good 70 percent. And it's not just the percentages that boost the aerial assault. It's also the pace. The Air Raid moves fast; to the point that over a 12-game regular season the offense will probably take in the neighborhood of 100-plus more snaps than last year's Cougars.

So how will all that add up when the season is done and we're assessing the stats?

To make it simple, we looked at Leach's last team at Texas Tech, the 2009 club that went 8-4, and compared it with the 2011 Cougars. That '09 Tech team, by the way, seems a fitting starting point for comparison not just because it was Leach's last, but also due to the similar output (six- to eight wins) that many on Planet Coug are forecasting for their team this fall.

At any rate, here's what we found when looking at the '09 Red Raiders and '11 Cougars:

  • The Red Raiders threw the ball 669 times, the Cougs 392 times.

  • The Red Raiders averaged 387 air yards per game (2nd-most in the nation), the '11 Cougs 322 (9th). Over the course of the season, that's a 5,028 vs. 3,867 difference.

  • The Red Raiders averaged 84 rushing yards per game, the Cougs 100.

  • The Red Raiders averaged 27.9 first downs per game (4th in the nation), the Cougars 23.35 (26th). That's a difference of 54 over the course of a year.

  • The Red Raiders' TD/INT split was 38-12, the Cougars' 30-12, while Tech's passing efficiency rating (143.8) was 19th in the country and the Cougars' (141.63) was 36th.

    Above all, and this truly is the bottom line, the '09 Red Raiders scored 37 points per game (7th in the nation), while the '11 Cougs averaged 29.8 (45th in the nation). The difference there is 86 points over the course of the season. When you consider that last year's Cougars lost three of their games by a combined total of 16 points, that 86 number looks mighty inviting.

    Let the Air Raid begin.

    AROUND THE HORN:
    Leach was in Omaha last week for a speaking engagement and book signing, and told the Omaha World-Herald there was no doubt he would return to coaching after his departure from Texas Tech. "I was in my coaching prime," he said. "I was having fun doing what I was doing. But two years got taken away from me. We won 29 games in the last three years there at Tech, so two years got taken away from me through the actions of others, and I did plan to get back in" ... The Orlando Sentinel picks WSU as one of five teams that will surprise people in the upcoming football season ... Letters to the editor in Sunday's Spokesman-Review strongly reinforced the sentiments coming out of the CF.C message boards over the last 10 days: Bill Moos dropped the ball in the way he fired Jim Walden .... CouGreat Marcus Trufant recently was inducted into the Pacific Northwest Football Hall of Fame. It's been an eventful few weeks for the one-time Pro Bowler. He was re-signed by the Seahawks in mid April after they had released him in March due to his big salary and iffy back ... Paul Wulff isn't the only Cougar in mini-camp with the 49ers. David Gonzales, a free agent signee, is too. The Niners have the former left tackle playing right guard.

    GOOD NEWS FOR LEACH FANS IN TEXAS:
    Crimson-colored travel agent Linda Finch has put together all-inclusive travel packages from Dallas and Houston to Pullman to get Mike Leach fans -- both of the Cougar and Red Raider variety -- up to the Palouse for the first home game of the Leach Era, on Sept. 7. The packages include airfare, tickets to see the Cougars vs. EWU, two nights' accommodations at the Northern Quest Casino, a party bus between Spokane and Pullman, and a tailgater in Pullman. For more information, call Linda toll free at 1-800-682-2251.

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