The two leading receivers for the Cougs heading into Pac-12 play are the starting outside receivers: Gabe Marks and Tavares Martin have 27 and 19 receptions, respectively. The starting inside receivers, River Cracraft and Robert Lewis, have 14 and 9 grabs, respectively.
Yes, when you have a Marks or a Michael Crabtree on the outside, those types of guys are going to help the outside WRs lead the way in receptions. But that’s a significant difference here in 2016 in comparing the starters -- 46 receptions vs. 23 receptions when ideally, as Mike Leach says, the slot men should have more catches. Some additional '16 context is needed, however.
Lewis has started every game at the H but CF.C’s Skyler Cracraft estimates from the press box that Kyle Sweet (pictured above) has played 50 percent of the snaps at the H the first three games. Sweet has 9 catches this season, just like Lewis, so when you add his total into the mix, it becomes 46 catches vs. 31 catches in comparing (effectively, the starting) outside and inside receivers.
Now, when you add in every Cougar wide receiver who has caught a pass in the first three games, the outside WRs have 58 catches for 532 yards and 5 TDs, while the inside receivers have 35 receptions for 428 hashes and 3 TDs.
The million dollar question: Will the Cougs’ inside receiver production spike beginning with Saturday’s game vs. Oregon? And if so, will that happen at the Y, the H, or both?
AT THE Y, Cracraft has averaged 5.1 receptions for 63 yards per game over his first three seasons (and two of those seasons were shortened by injury). But in early '16, Cracraft sits at 4.7 rpg and 38.0 ypg. Those numbers would be a little better if not for some very uncharacteristic drops against Idaho.
Cracraft does have extraordinary hands and throughout his Cougar career, he’s shown an advanced ability to get open and move the chains on third down. Still, as good as Cracraft has been through his first three seasons, he hasn’t reached his potential -- and while the following are lofty numbers, from my chair Cracraft is fully capable of averaging 85 receiving yards per game, and 1 TD catch, per contest.
Sure, there are a lot of things well beyond Cracraft’s control that go into that: o-line pass protection, QB targets, how open the other Cougar receivers are, etc. But it’s clear going forward the Cougs would only benefit if Cracraft embarks on a new upward glide path starting on Saturday vs. Oregon (2-2).
Just as compelling a question is found at the H, with the combination of Lewis and Sweet.
Combined, they have 18 receptions in three games. That’s not chopped liver, but their total still sits behind that of outside men Martin (19) and Marks (27).
Oregon head man Mark Helfrich said Saturday night the Ducks have not shown that they have “that pass rusher, or that cover guy.” The linebacker group has also been challenged in the intermediate passing game. For WSU inside receivers coach JaMarcus Shephard's group, they couldn’t ask for a better breakout opportunity than the one coming up on Saturday night.
Oregon has played UC Davis, Virginia, Nebraska and Colorado. They are allowing 6.7 yards per attempt, fell from 54th in red zone defense to 82nd after Week Four, and are 62nd in passing efficiency defense after having been ranked 35th the week before.
But if Washington State trails Oregon at the break, Cougar fans should stick around after halftime. No. really. The Duck D surrendered 73- and 80-yard game-winning drives, late in the fourth quarter, to both Nebraska and Colorado.
And in both cases, Oregon's D forced Colorado and Nebraska to each face only one third down on those game-winning drives.
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