The 5 most telling stats in WSU’s 2015 turnaround

THERE ARE PLENTY of stats that attempt to quantify a team’s defensive output. But scoring defense is a big one. And Washington State’s improvement there helps explain how the Cougs went from 3-9 in 2014 to 8-4 this season with the Sun Bowl still to come.

1. Led by a mix of veterans and youth and keyed by the push up front from the defensive line, Washington State's stop corps shaved nearly 10 ppg in scoring defense this season compared to last – from 38.6 to 28.8.   While plenty more work remains (WSU ranks 83rd in scoring defense in the FBS) the improvement was massive. 

2. WSU made huge gains in passing yards allowed.  This season, WSU ranks 63rd in allowing 224 passing yards per game. Last season, WSU ranked 124th in the nation in surrendering 297 air yards per game. Also, WSU’s team passing efficiency defense.  The Cougs rank 65th nationally at 125.56 this season.  Last year, Wazzu ranked 122nd at 158.01.

3. Despite WSU committing a ghastly seven turnovers in the Apple Cup, they’ve still improved nearly 40 spots in the FBS in turnover margin from last season, going from minus-1.42 to minus-0.25.

4. While everyone knows WSU is No. 1 nationally in passing offense for the second straight season, the Cougs are also No. 1 in red zone scoring. WSU ranks first in the nation in successful red zone trips at 94.3 percent.  That compares with WSU converting 80.3 percent of their red zone chances in 2014 (82nd).

By the way, apart from the 36 TDs in 53 trips inside the 20-yard line, you can point to both the number of made field goals and WSU’s fourth-down conversion percentage for the red zone gains. Washington State has connected on 18 field goals this season. Last year, they made 11.  The Cougs have also converted 69 percent of their fourth-down tries this season, ranking 15th nationally.  In 2014, they cashed in 45 percent of the time (88th).

5. Washington State has also had a vast improvement when it comes to penalties. The Cougs are 10th nationally in fewest penalty yards per game in 2015, at 38.5 yards.  Last year, WSU was 110th in the nation with 67.67 penalty yards per game.  The Cougs are 36th nationally in fewest flags per game, at 5.42.  In 2014, officials dropped 7.83 flags per game on WSU (111th).


What probably gets lost more than any other offensive statistic is the improvement in the run game.  Washington State’s ranking in rushing offense has actually dropped, going from 124th last season to 127th in 2015.   That’s last in the FBS.  But WSU has doubled its rushing hashes in 2015 from last season  -- 79.9 vs. 39.8.  (Also keep in mind sacks are added in here.  WSU’s top three running backs - Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow and Keith Harrington - have combined for 1,101 ground yards this season).

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