WSU run game: Redefining the word balance

THERE’S BEEN some chatter of late about more balance potentially coming to Washington State’s offense this season. I’m not so sure about that.

ESPN’s David Lombardi blogged about WSU recently and he makes some strong (and optimistic) points. On the subject of balance, I do think the Cougs are going to run more than they have in Mike Leach's first three seasons in Pullman. I also believe they are going to run more effectively too. But a Leach offense is always going to be a pass-first offense and those expecting to see a pronounced change in the ratio are going to be disappointed.

“I think you’ll see more of an emphasis on the run game this year just because of the personnel that we have at every position -- but as far as major tweaks, nah, Coach Leach’s offense is his offense,” WSU running backs coach Jim Mastro told CF.C recently. “It hasn’t changed (much) in 20 years and it’s probably not going to change. And that is a good thing because it’s about repetition and doing every little thing right. It will be an exciting season offensively.”

Leach's teams at Texas Tech averaged 296 rushing attempts per season. The most ever: 385 rushing attempts in 2002.

Cal last year rushed 440 times (with 535 pass attempts). Arizona last year had 575 rushing attempts to 564 pass attempts. And UCLA rushed 557 times last season, while Oregon's total was 644.

In his three seasons at WSU, Leach's teams have produced 252, 243 and 243 rush attempts.

In 2015, all five OL starters return, as well as all 18 scholarship o-linemen from last year. Running backs Gerard Wicks (pictured above) and Jamal Morrow now have a year under their belt, with the greatest amount of improvement in a running back's career expected between the first and second seasons. Keith Harrington adds a new dynamic to the group. WSU may run as many as 25 percent of their plays from under center.

Add it all up and yes, WSU may very well top the 300 plateau when it comes to rush attempts.

But keep in mind that 385 figure - a Leach team has never had more rushing attempts. Don't expect to see "balance" in 2015 out on the Palouse, at least not in the traditional sense. Leach, by the way, has a different definition of balance altogether.

In his first fall camp at Washington State, Leach made it clear that in his mind a 50-50 split between the pass and the run is not balance.

"There's a whole myth about balance, and it's really stupid," said Leach. "The notion that you hand it to one guy half the time, and then you throw it to two other guys the other half of the time, and maybe you connect, maybe you don't. There's nothing balanced about it. There's two skill positions left out.

"Balance, whether you run it or throw it, is getting contribution from all the skill positions. Ours is a balanced offense. The wishbone is a balanced offense. Some I-tailback offense, it may be a great offense, it may be great for the team that they play for, where you're giving it to the back 40 times. There's nothing balanced about it. It doesn't even add up to balance. We try to be balanced based on contributions by all the skill positions."

If everything goes according to plan, what might that look like? Leach also detailed that during his first year in Pullman.

He said he wants his QB to complete 65-plus percent of his passes and with considerable distribution. The running back position would account for at least 1,400 all-purpose hashes, with 1,000 yards by each of the outside receivers, and 1,000 yards from each of the inside receivers, with the inside receivers getting more touches than the outside group.

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