Offensively, the 2015 Air Raid was decidedly not your bombs away-type of offense. Washington State made its mark with short, precision gains.
WSU was 10th in the nation in explosive plays of 10-plus yards, with 247. And the Cougs would have been seventh if three teams ahead of them had not played more games. (WSU played 13 games while Bowling Green and Western Kentucky each played 14, Clemson played 15).
The Cougs were also t-21st nationally in explosion plays of 20-plus yards, with 79.
And with those two explosive play categories lies the success of the 2015 Air Raid. Because things drop off dramatically from there as far as explosive plays are concerned.
WSU was 86th in explosive plays that went 30-plus yards; 122nd in 40-plus; 121st in 50-yard-plus; 113th in 60-plus and 74th in 70-plus yard plays.
An argument can be made that the next step for WSU’s offense in Year Five under Mike Leach would be to figure out how to add a handful more explosive plays in the 30-plus and beyond categories while still maintaining the first two categories – the 10-plus and 20-plus yard explosives. I’m not so sure.
I’d argue WSU can better take that next step by climbing to say, fifth and 10th nationally in the 10-plus and 20-plus yards explosion play categories, respectively.
WSU meticulously driving down the field rests their defense and tires out the opposition’s. It’s also what WSU and Luke Falk are best at; short- and medium-range throws with a premium placed on accuracy. But if a few WSU wideouts or running backs break some big gainers after contact to a greater degree in '16, well, that can’t hurt.
Meanwhile, the WSU stop corps in 2015 under first year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was the epitome of a bend-don’t-break defense.
The 2015 Cougs were 114th out of 128 teams in allowing explosive plays of 10-plus yards, with 210 allowed. That’s a step back from 2014, when WSU was t-68th with 179.
But WSU in 2015 improved in every other explosive yard category on defense over 2014.
The Cougs were t-54th in the 20-plus yard explosives with 56 allowed. That’s a significant improvement over 2014, when WSU was 113th.
This season, WSU was t-83rd and t-69th in 30-plus and 40-plus yard explosive plays allowed, respectively. Last year WSU ranked t-92nd and t-110th.
In 2015, the Cougar D was t-10th nationally in allowing three plays of 50-yards plus, and t-6th nationally in 60-yard explosives allowed, with one. In ’14, the Cougs allowed four times as many 50-plus explosives (12) and ranked 112th nationally, and ranked 92nd in 60-plus explosive plays allowed, with six.
The improvement in explosive plays allowed was the key to WSU’s scoring defense dropping to 27.7, a difference of nearly 11 points from 2014 (38.6). The path to further improvement in 2016 is also plain -- decreasing the number of 10-yard-plus explosive plays.
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