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Pac-12 Preview Wazzu: Is the Pirate Righting the Ship?

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Washington State, under the leadership of head coach Mike “The Pirate” Leach, finished 2013 with a 6-7 overall record, 4-5 in the Pac-12. To kick off the season, the Cougars narrowly lost to eventual SEC Champion Auburn 31-24, and to end the season, Wazzu lost 48-45 to Colorado State in the New Mexico Bowl. The Cougars Pac-12 record of 4-5 included impressive victories over USC and Arizona, but also blow-out at the hands of Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, and Arizona State. A deeper dig into the Washington State results shows that the Cougars are still in the lower half of the conference in most major statistics, except for passing yards.

CategoryResultsPac12 Rank
Scoring--Off Avg27.19th
Scoring--Def Avg37.110th
Offense Yds/G414.87th
Defense Yds/G 499.210th
Rushing-Off Yds/G5112th
Rushing-Def Yds/G195.710th
Passing-Off Yds/G363.82nd
Passing-Def Yds/G303.611th
Passing-Eff-Off Avg117.99th
Passing-Eff-Def Avg14510th
INTs Made Total115th
Sacks Made Total1310th
Sacks Given Up2410th
Washington State Statistical analysis provided by Gary Doran

Most coaches will tell you that changing the fortunes of a team can sometimes happen subtlety. Could this be the case with the Cougars under Leach? First, a look into the Cougar offense as Leach has been a leader in developing and shaping the Air Raid.  At it’s heart, this should be an offensive system that emphasizes an over-aggressive passing game that when conducted properly, produces high completion percentages, low sack totals, and minimal sacks allowed.

Pac-12 Games Lost (5)1st Half2nd HalfTotal
Average Yards219.8192.4412.2
Average Yards/Play5.05.15.1
Turnovers41317

Pac-12 Games Won (4)1st Half2nd HalfTotal
Average Yards230.8207.8438.6
Average Yards/Play5.65.55.6
Turnovers617
Washington State Statistical analysis provided by Gary Doran

The glaring statistic that pops out of the chart is that the Washington State offense turned the ball over 13 times in the second halves of games they lost. Turnovers at that high a frequency to top conference competition will result in lopsided losses like the Cougars suffered. In the four Pac-12 conference victories, the Cougar offense helped out the defense substantially by not turning the ball over in the second half of the games. Ball security for senior quarterback Connor Holliday is extremely important for the Cougars to move to the next level in 2014 and beyond.

A surprising part of the change seen is that of the Cougar defense. In the early stages when a coach is trying to turnaround a weak program, that program will still struggle with the better teams. The change begins to happen with the teams that aren’t elite. That’s what seems to have happened for Washington State last year. Wazzu beat two teams (California and Utah) which the Cougars should have, and the Cougars won two games they probably should not have won by wrestling a hard fought victory away from two higher positions teams on paper (USC and Arizona). Shockingly, it was the defense that helped Washington State in those four victories.  And that may be what continues to keep the team bowl relevant until Leach can cycle through the remaining recruits from the Paul Wulff era and get all of his recruited players developed into a system built in his own image.

 First HalfSecond HalfTotal
Washington State7156127
Opponents562783
Washington State Statistical analysis provided by Gary Doran

In the four games Washington State won, the Cougars allowed only three touchdowns and two field goals in the second halves of those games. In those four victories, the Cougars allowed less than one touchdown per half in the high scoring, offensive Pac-12. Washington State shut down those four opponents when it needed to the most in the second half.

Just how good was that second half defense in the 2013 Washington State Pac-12 victories? In the five Pac-12 losses, the Cougars offensively averaged 23.4 points per loss while in its four Pac-12 victories, the Cougars averaged 31.8 points per win. Overall an 8.4 point per game increase. However, in the five Pac-12 losses, the Cougars defensively averaged 50.2 points allowed per loss, and in its four Pac-12 victories, the Cougars averaged 20.8 points allowed per win. As a point of reference, Stanford led the Pac-12 with a 19.4 points allowed per game average. The fact that at times, the Washington State defense can play at a high level is an encouraging step that Leach is righting the Cougar ship.

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