Cougar football: Points shortage a big issue

WASHINGTON STATE leads the league in passing offense. But the true bottom line -- points on the board -- is another thing entirely. The Cougs are averaging less than 16 points per game in Pac-10 play -- an especially glaring problem in a league where the points pile up faster than I-5 traffic on a Friday. In a wide-ranging conference call today, Bill Doba offered insight on the points shortage.

The Cougar defense has more than it's share of problems this year, but the offense was expected to be robust, possibly even prolific. Instead, it's next to last in the league in scoring.

So how is it they're averaging a tepid 15.25 points per game over four Pac-10 games?

In a word, balance. Or lack thereof.

For the season, Washington State has thrown the ball 58 percent of the time. Against Pac-10 teams, the number climbs to 64 percent. And it increases another 2 percentage points on plays when the Cougs have the lead or are trailing by less than 14 -- so the overall number of pass attempts clearly isn't skewed by being in a constant state of playing catch up.

Even at a school once dubbed Quarterback U, the norm over the years -- at least the best years --the run/pass split was very close to 50/50.

"We'd love to have a good balance," Doba told reporters Monday in his weekly conference call. "Right now, we're playing a couple (young) offensive linemen, one (Andrew Roxas) a true freshman. We're just not strong enough. But they're as good as we have, the best that we have, so that's what we're saddled with. This is a young offensive line. And in another year, I think we'll be able to run the ball even more.

"Right now, we have to trap somebody or run a draw or do something to help them."

WSU RUNNING BACKS are averaging 3.57 yards per carry this season and 109 per game. Both numbers put the Cougs near the bottom of the Pac-10.

The magic number in yards per carry in the conference this season is 4. Every league team with a winning record is averaging over 4 yards per rushing attempt. The exception (that proves the rule?) is 2-5 Washington, whose 4.61 average rates fourth.

It doesn't get any easier for the Cougs this week. Saturday's opponent, 4-2 UCLA, will bring the nation's No. 8 rushing defense into Martin Stadium. And Oregon State, the Cougs' opponent a few weeks down the road, is the No. 3 rated defense in the land against the run.

WHAT IS PROMISING was the news Monday that receiver Brandon Gibson (heel) is expected back for UCLA, said Doba. Gibson, despite missing the Oregon game and even after the Cougs' bye this past weekend, still leads the league in receiving yards with 567 hashes.

Starting right tackle Micah Hannam (leg contusion) is day to day, with more on his availability known later in the week.

Starting safety Alfonso Jackson will undergo concussion tests this week. Jackson was said earlier to have suffered a second season concussion in Eugene but it turns out the lingering effects of the first concussion are to blame -- Doba said on Monday Jackson didn't come out because of contact against the Ducks. Although he passed the medical tests and was able to play against UO, Jackson still didn't feel right on the field and then came out of the game.

DOBA SAID THE Cougs had crisp practices this past Thursday and Friday. Washington State will hit the practice field today -- a benefit of the bye week as Monday is usually an off day for the Cougars. The coaches were also able to start looking at UCLA earlier.

Today and tomorrow look to be hard hitting affairs.

"What we're going to do is practice hard today, Monday and Tuesday. We'll start to lighten up a little on Wednesday and then have our normal Thursday practice and we'll try to take the field as fresh as we possibly can," said Doba. "...We're going to do everything we can to win."

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