California ranks No. 4 in the nation in passing – but No. 68 in scoring offense. Washington State is No. 14 nationally in passing offense – but No. 77 in scoring offense.
Against Auburn, USC and Stanford, the WSU offense scored a total of five touchdowns. In the two Pac-12 games they've played, the Cougar offense has found the end zone only twice.
And so there are two arguments surrounding the Cougar offense as we approach the midway point of the season.
THE FIRST IS that Rome wasn't built in a day, that WSU needs to continue to build the talent base, particularly on the offensive line. After that happens, and WSU quarterbacks have a consistent, strong pocket to throw from, then you'll see the touchdowns start to match the yardage totals being put up.
Indeed, how that argument goes is that once that front more fully develops, WSU's spreading of the field is to pay much bigger dividends than fans are seeing now.
Further along that point, proponents say that yes, you can be somewhat one-dimensional on offense, without a lot of disguised formations and without a traditional running attack, and still be very successful in the Pac-12 and beyond. That as long as you execute the offense, it will produce the points.
The key point to this argument is that by not having a tight end and using a running attack sparingly, the formations are basically two - trips right with a single receiver left, or double-doubles. And now all the defense really needs to do is to try and memorize the routes. Using a tight end like Stanford did allowed them to show about 15 more formations, all of which the WSU defense had to try and adjust to, and that didn't work out too well for the Cougs.
There is also one big hole in this argument -- that defenses have adjusted to the Air Raid, that it bogs down too much once the field gets shorter, etc., and that's what Art Briles and Baylor are doing this year in Briles' version of the Air Raid. They're averaging an astonishing 751.3 yards of offense and 69.7 ppg. Both figures lead the nation.
WHAT SIDE OF the argument CougFans come down on five games into the 2013 season varies. But the coming 2-3 game stretch will almost certainly put things in clearer perspective when it comes to the Cougs.
Cal hasn't been able to generate much defensive pressure and they rank near the bottom nationally in total defense. Cal should be very familiar with what Wazzu will do on Saturday (Sonny Dykes is a Mike Leach disciple, the Bears run their own Air Raid, etc.), but the Air Raid isn't as dependent on trying to disguise what they're doing as much as it's about spreading the field and out-executing the other guy.
In taking everything into account about this matchup, from this chair, if the Wazzu Air Raid doesn't find scoring success against Cal that's going to be a pretty good indicator of where things are at 1 1/2 years into the Mike Leach era. Conversely, if the Cougs find a good amount of success and take advantage of their scoring chances, that will also be a very strong indicator.
One way the latter could happen is if WSU wide receiver Dom Williams has a big day. He's averaging 20.6 yards per catch but has only 13 receptions -- and three of those catches went for TDs.
After Cal comes Oregon State. They've struggled quite a bit on defense -- mostly when facing a running quarterback with a zone read component and they've given up yardage to good running attacks. But they've also been gashed at times by the pass. What happens when they try to focus mostly on stopping a short passing attack – does OSU look pretty good or does WSU have them hanging their heads? This game should tell us mountains about the 2013 Cougar offense.
And then comes Oregon. No one has come close to stopping the Duck offense and it's a virtual certainty the Coug offense will have to score at a similar pace if they want to be there in the fourth quarter. Will the Air Raid be clicking on more cylinders three weeks from now? Will WSU by then be putting up points at a comparable level to their yardage? This Saturday at Cal and the following week at home against Oregon State will go a long ways in deciding that.