22 Washington State - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
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22 Washington State

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OPPOSING COACH'S TAKE

Preparing for that Air Raid offense is hard because you have to be ready for tempo, multiple formations, crossing routes. Defenses can't substitute. The scheme isn't overcomplicated, but they give different looks. If they have a good quarterback, which they do this year [6'4", 225-pound senior LUKE FALK], and if they have receivers, which they do [led by junior Tavares Martin Jr., who had 64 catches in 2016] they're tough to stop. They were good on the line last year too, which allowed them to run it a little more. The left guard, [6'8", 370-pound senior All-America] Cody O'Connell, is a player, and right tackle Cole Madison [a 6'5", 315-pound senior] does a good job too.

Since Alex Grinch took over as defensive coordinator [in 2015], they've done a good job of giving different looks with lots of movement in their front seven and lots of different coverages. They keep you guessing. They're very aggressive in stopping the run, which is why they create negative plays and force a lot of turnovers [47 in two years]. Most of their front seven is back, but they need a pass rusher or two to emerge to make up for the secondary, which isn't strong. Because they're multiple, the offense is guessing, and that causes quarterbacks to make mistakes. The trade-off is that sometimes you can get caught in the wrong defense. That's how big plays happen.

OFFENSIVE RANKINGS (1 TO 128)

[The following text appears within an illustration. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual illustration.]

THIRD-DOWN CONVERSION % (15TH)

YARDS PER PASS ATTEMPT (69TH)

COMPLETION % (2ND)

YARDS PER CARRY (73RD)

SACKS ALLOWED (82ND)

TURNOVERS LOST (35TH)

POINTS PER DRIVE (19TH)

YARDS PER PLAY (40TH)

DEFENSIVE RANKINGS (1 TO 128)

[The following text appears within an illustration. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual illustration.]

THIRD-DOWN CONVERSION % ALLOWED (70TH)

YARDS PER PASS ATTEMPT ALLOWED (102ND)

COMPLETION % ALLOWED (107TH)

YARDS PER CARRY ALLOWED (47TH)

SACKS (103RD)

TURNOVERS GAINED (38TH)

POINTS PER DRIVE ALLOWED (44TH)

YARDS PER PLAY ALLOWED (90TH)

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RATING

44

To sniff the playoff, the Cougars will have to at least split matchups with USC (9/29) at home and at Washington (11/25), then win the Pac-12 title game. Before that they'll face trips to Oregon (10/7) and Utah (11/11) and host Stanford (11/4).

THE PLAYER TO KNOW

Last year, as a freshman, running back JAMES WILLIAMS led the Cougars in carries (102) and yards (584) and tied for fourth on the team with 48 receptions. As the top man in the three-way platoon with Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks, James helped Washington State improve by nearly a yard per carry in 2016, rising from 3.60 to 4.31. That's a rare feat for pass-happy Mike Leach and his Air Raid--based attack, and the balance that ground game provided contributed to the Cougars' 8--5 season. Continuing that proficiency in 2017, while also providing a receiving outlet, will be crucial to quarterback Luke Falk's success, to say nothing of the team's.