Upon looking at the stats, one thing has become clearly obvious: This team needs to change it's run/pass ratio.
In two games so far, the Cougs have 77 rushing attempts and 59 passing attempts. Now I realize there are a number of those rushing attempts that came on called passes that ended in sacks or scrambles, but overall it would be safe to assume that this teams runs the ball more than it passes. A LOT more.
Consider that the Cougs have seen large deficits in both of their games thus far and the disproportianate run:pass ratio is even more surprising.
It's not that running is always bad thing. Running can be a great thing, but only if a team is effective in running the ball. So far, the Cougs have been a team that attempts to pound the ball first and pass later. The problem is, when an offensive unit only puts up 2.9 yards-per-carry, passing becomes less of an option and more of a requirement. Defenses love when passing is a requirement.
Still think "establishing the run" is important for the Cougs' success? I'll point you to a study published by Football Outsiders back in 2003. They took the data from the 2002 NFL season and tried to find correlations between teams that run early and overall success. Here is a little snippet that tells you a lot of what you need to know:
Statisticians have a concept called the correlation coefficient that measures how much one variable influences another variable. A correlation of 1 means the two variables are completely connected; 0 means they have no connection.
The correlation between first quarter rushing attempts and team wins is a measly .171. That means there is almost no connection between running a lot in the first quarter, and winning a lot of games. The correlation between fourth quarter rushing attempts and team wins, on the other hand, is .750. That's a sizeable relationship.
Essentially, teams that won in 2002 were running the ball a lot in the 4th quarter, not the first quarter. Why? Because they were running out the clock. Obviously, this is an NFL study and it is eight years olds, but it is safe to assume that football has not changed a whole lot in the last two years and with the flood of pro-style offenses in College Football, it still holds weight. Football Outsiders obviously feels this way, as they continue to feature the article.
This lack of correlation between running and winning is compounded when a team cannot run the ball effectively, as is the case with the Washington State Cougars. What's most interesting about this team is that they seem to try to pound the ball EVEN MORE when down. In the third quarter of Saturday's game against Montana State, the Cougs started the second half running 7 out of their first twelve plays as the Bobcats built their lead. That ratio did not flip until WSU took over possession down 15 points with just over 17 minutes left in the game.
It would seem that Washington State wants to continue to pound the ball until it is absolutely necessary to throw. This needs to change, but do we have the personnel to do it? (Click the jump for more)
It would appear that we do. Wide Receiver may be WSU's most talented and deep unit. Jared Karstetter, Gino Simone, Marquess Wilson, Daniel Blackledge, Isiah Barton, and company all have the ability to make plays. The Cougs have a mixture of big guys on the outside and quick guys across the middle. This group should be able to hold their own against most secondaries in the Pac-10.
The pass protection is obviously not the best, but it looks improved over the previous two years. Mixing in some designed rollouts and running out of the shotgun can really help with some of the collapsing pocket issues.
So what about Jeff Tuel?
We know he has a strong arm and he is most certainly accurate. Compare his numbers to the heralded sophomore over at Stanford, Andrew Luck , and you will see that their completion percentages are very similar (Luck's career completion percentage is at 56.7, while Tuel's is at 57.5), and Tuel has not had the luxury of Toby Gerhart and a stout offensive line. Put them up against the last four-year starter at quarterback for the Cougs and there is no comparison for their early statistics. Alex Brink threw 194 passes his freshman year, and completed half of them. Tuel has connected on 57.5% of his first 179 passes.
I am very confident that if given the opportunity to air it out, Jeff Tuel and company will be a more successful offense. Running the ball 40 times a game when you are only getting 2.9 yards a carry is inexcusable. I realize it is not that simple to just suddenly throwing the ball more. Coaches may be worried about risking injury to their young quarterback behind a suspect offensive line. But I ask this, what is more dangerous? Throwing the ball on obvious passing downs when the defense can pin their ears back and come for the quarterback? Or throwing the ball when the defense has to respect the run as well?
It is time to call more passes Cougs. Let's see what this young offense is capable of. If for no other reason than what we are doing right now is not working.