The next step for Cougs to take on offense

PULLMAN -- Pass, pass, pass. It's the mantra of the Air Raid offense. But just how daring are head coach Mike Leach and his offense at Washington State? CF.C delved into the statistics to find out.

Even though the Cougars' offense focuses heavily on the pass, it did not measure up to previous Air Raid offenses that Leach has controlled. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Cougars did not statistically compare well to other Pac-12 offenses last season, whether they were pass-oriented or run-oriented.

Sure, Connor Halliday blew away most of the competition in terms of total passing yards and average passing yards per game, finishing second to Oregon State's Sean Mannion in both categories. However, it was what Halliday and the Cougars did with their pass attempts and completions that fell short to many other offenses, both past and present. In fact, Washington State's pass efficiency ranked 10th in the conference last season.

Pass efficiency is a vague statistic though, so to illustrate how the Cougars utilized their passes in 2013, CF.C broke down the passing yards in terms of completions. We began by looking at the most natural comparison, the Cougars' offense in relation to past Air Raid squads under Leach. Halliday averaged 10.2 yards per completion last season, which seems like a quality number because it is greater than the amount needed for a first down. Yet, Graham Harrell, B.J. Symons and Kliff Kingsbury, all of who played at Texas Tech for Leach, had better seasons.

Harrell consistently finished above 11 yards per completion in each of his four years. Symons averaged 12.4 during his record-breaking season in 2003. Kingsbury compared the worst to Halliday in that he had about 9.5 yards per completion in 2000 and 2001, but then ratcheted that number up to 10.5 in 2002. And in all of those seasons, Kingsbury finished first in the NCAA for completions.

Within the conference, Halliday and the Cougars fared worse on paper. Among the starting quarterbacks in the Pac-12, Halliday finished dead last in yards per completion, with the highest finishers being Marcus Mariota of Oregon with 15 and Kevin Hogan of Stanford with 14.6. One would think that the Cougars would throw more deep balls to drive up their average than at least the running offenses of the conference, but the statistics say otherwise.

The reason for this might be found in the offensive line. The Cougars allowed an average of 2.46 sacks per game last season, with 32 sacks allowed. That means that Halliday might not have had enough time to find a receiver downfield, at least not as much as the other teams in the conference. Only California, Arizona State and UCLA allowed more sacks per game than the Cougars, and perhaps not coincidentally, Oregon and Stanford each allowed less than two sacks per game.

Another way to look at how Washington State moved down the field is to look at who was catching the passes rather than who was throwing them. Of the receivers the Cougars had on the field last season, Dom Williams was the player who made the most out of his catches. Williams averaged 16.2 yards per reception, the most of any of the receivers on the team who totaled more than 10 receptions.

That number of yards per reception is significant because it served as a marker for how the Cougars used their receivers compared to the other teams in the conference. Arizona State was the only team to not have a receiver who averaged more than 16.2 yards per catch, and Colorado and Oregon State were the only ones who had at least one receiver who equaled 16.2. Stanford meanwhile had two players, Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector, who averaged more than 20 yards per reception last season.

One final number that captures the whole picture of the WSU offense compared to others -- yards gained per play. This number shows how many yards teams gained through the air and on the ground, and it is a fairly accurate representation of how well the offense works together as a whole. Washington State's average was 5.48, (which is much fewer than its yards per pass completion and also fewer than it yards per pass attempt of 6.33.) Heading into their third season under Leach, the Cougars have showed improvement in several facets of the game. However, in light of the numbers from last season, the passing game has even more potential to launch itself higher in 2014.


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