Explosives ruining Wazzu’s defense

PULLMAN – After the fourth consecutive whipping of the Stanford Cardinal earlier this month, Mike Leach was quick to tell the media it was the most complete game he’d seen the Cougars play all season.

Leach mentioned improvement citing “it was about time” in regard to his offense’s efficiency, praised Travell Harris for a long kick return, and gave a nod to the defense for a pair of takeaways in key moments.

But of course, nothing was perfect. The Cougar offense settled for a set of field goals while the defense surrendered 255 yards on 9 explosive plays.

No, it’s not a typo. Yes, you read it right.

Feel free to call the former nitpicky, because it is, but the latter is anything but. Stanford popped off for gains of 25, 43, 23, 21, 21, 21, 20, 54, and 27 yards. Three of which were conversions of third-down-and-forever.

Fast forward to Oregon State and a similar story is lost in lore of a wild fourth-quarter slugfest. The Beavers tallied up 10 explosive plays for 359 yards – an average of almost 36 yards per play.

Gains of 54, 46, 28, and 39 all would have been longer had the Beavers not run out of room by the goal post.

Jahad Woods addressed the issue after Stanford reminding the media that their opponents are top tier athletes too. They’re bound to make plays. And he’s right, though, a bit more mitigation would be nice – and Leach agrees.

“I think we’re doing better at pressuring the quarterback, but I don’t know if were seeing progress or not. I’ll have to look at the film. We’re still giving away way too many explosives.”

Mike Leach

It’s a common phrasing among defenses at all levels of the game to ‘bend but don’t break.’ But for this Washington State unit, the inverse looks to be reality.

  • Between a combined 19 explosive plays in both games, WSU allowed 614 yards for about 32 yards per snap.
  • Between a combines 114 non-explosive plays in both games, WSU allowed 492 yards for about 4 yards per snap.

When looking at only non-explosive plays, the data is daunting. 55 percent of the yards against Wazzu have been allowed on just 15 percent of their snaps.

In other words, 85 percent of the time WSU’s defense is good – real good. Those 4 yards per play would rank them third in the entire nation behind Ohio State and Clemson.

But those snaps happened, and they sure counted. So by aggregate – or reality – Washington State ranks 119 out of 130 for yard allowed per play. Only Arizona (127) ranks worse in the conference.

Perhaps the brightest sign resides in Marcus Strong. He was good in the hosting of Oregon State recording multiple pass breakups. He trailed Isaiah Hodgins all game holding the standout receiver to 65 yards on 5 receptions. Unfortunately, 1 of those 5 was a pickup of 34 yards.

Micro or macro, the preceding math holds up.

So perhaps Jahad is right. The opponent is certainly bound to make plays. However, relying on Anthony Gordon to throw for 600 yards a game – despite his talents – is no recipe for sustained success.

And with the Apple Cup fast approaching, Washington State’s interim Co-Defensive Coordinators Roc Bellantoni and Darcel McBath better have an answer.

Because if there is anything we know for sure, Chris Petersen has had the Cougs numbers for years. And in an otherwise average season, what better time for Jacob Eason – the prodigal son of Washington – to finally deliver for his hometown crowd.

The Apple Cup is set to kickoff at Husky Stadium for a 1 p.m. (PST) start.

 (Photos by: Jack Ellis – Cougar Sports Network)

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