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In case you didn't notice, the offense was bad

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If you followed me over here from WSU HOOPS, you know a little bit about how I tend to look at the games I watch and analyze my teams. If you've never read my previous site, you should know this: I love stats.

We all know the WSU offense was B-A-D on Saturday. I mean, when you hear things like 196 yards of total offense, you know it's bad. Never mind the fact that the offense didn't pass the eye test, either.

But how bad was it really?

 

Well, to begin our breakdown, let's establish this: Run-of-the-mill raw stats -- in this case, yards gained -- just don't tell us very much. Rate-type stats are much better at revealing effectiveness. For example, if two offenses gain 400 yards, how can you distinguish between the two? Are they equal? What if I told you that one gained it on 50 plays, while the other gained it on 70 plays? The answer becomes simple.

It's an intuitive way to look at performance that is too often overlooked.

One rate stat most people are familiar with is yards per rush. Lesser known, however, are two more telling rate statistics, especially for this team: Yards gained per play and yards gained per pass attempt.

Let's start by looking at Saturday with yards gained per play.

Not only did the offense only gain 196 yards, but they did it on 59 total plays -- just 10 fewer plays, believe it or not, than OSU. That works out to a paltry 3.3 yards per play.

What does that actually mean? We all know that at least 4.0 yards per rush is what you're shooting for. No coincidentally, that's just about the median nationally over the last four years.*  Well, in terms of yards per play, if you're shooting for median, you're shooting for about 5.3. When you're gaining two fewer yards per play than an average college football team, that's bad.

Here's some more context for you if you're curious just how bad Saturday was:

  • Saturday's 3.3 yards ranked 98th out of the 114 teams who played this weekend. (Side note: No. 114? Idaho -- 2.2 yards. As Grady said, please go back to FCS. Seriously.)
  • In the last four years, the Cougs have averaged 5.8 yards per play (No. 28 nationally), 5.7 (No. 36), 6.6 (No. 5 -- thank you, Jerome Harrison!) and 5.1 (68).
  • Only three other times in the last five years have the Cougs gained less than 4 yards per play -- the general marker for pretty terrible offensive play -- and only once have they gained fewer than those 3.3: Sept. 22, 2007 vs. No 1 USC (3.5 ypp); Oct. 30, 2004 vs. No. 1 USC (2.4 ypp); Nov. 1, 2003 vs. No. 3 USC (3.7 ypp). Notice a pattern there?
  • If we extend it out to the rest of this decade, we find four more instances of less than 4 ypp: Nov. 3, 2001 vs. UCLA (3.6 ypp); Sept. 2, 2000 vs. Stanford (3.5 ypp); and Oct. 28, 2000 vs. Oregon State (3.5 ypp); and Nov. 18, 2000 vs. UW (3.7 ypp).

So, given that A) Only once this decade have the Cougs gained less per play than what they did on Saturday, and B) It happened not against No. 1 USC but against an unranked team that's supposed to be at least relatively vulnerable on defense, there's really only one conclusion to draw: Saturday was the worst offensive performance in recent WSU history.

Where to lay the blame? I'll put it squarely on the passing game. Although the running game only averaged 3.4 yards, there were stretches of effectiveness, notably in the third quarter. The passing game? Again, really, really terrible.

Yards per pass attempt is a great measure of how effective your passing game is. Again, it's intuitive: If you throw for 300 yards but attempt 52 passes to get there, it loses a bit of its luster.

On Saturday, the Cougs (remember, Brandon Gibson threw an incomplete pass) averaged 3.3 yards per pass attempt -- fifth worst in the country on Saturday. Median nationally over the past four years is just over 6.9. As with yards per play, only twice in the last four years have the Cougs even approached the low they reached on Saturday: Last year against USC (4.3 ypa) and in 2005 against USC (3.6 ypa).

Looking for a silver lining? (Other than the obvious, that there's nowhere to go but up?)

Well, if we look at where Paul Wulff's EWU teams ended up, the future is bright. That stats for I-AA/FCS are sparse, and Eastern's online stat resources only go back two years. But in Wulff's final year in Cheney, the Eagles averaged 6.2 yards per play and 8.5 yards per pass. 

It's just going to take patience, though, as the offensive gains are going to be incremental, at least at first. There are three big factors limiting this passing offense that are only going to get better with time:

  1. A scaled back playbook.
  2. Lack of experience for Rogers.
  3. Besides Brandon Gibson, a total lack of playmakers at receiver.

The first two factors will get a little bit better every week. Rogers will get more comfortable with the playbook, which will allow the coaches to actually institute some wrinkles each week that can attack a defense's weakness. It also will allow Rogers to actually make reads during his drop back and not just lock in on one receiver. But that's not something that's going to get better overnight. And until the injuries get better and Jeshua Anderson gets back on the field, we're going to have issues with receivers even getting open.

The good news is that the Bears gave up 5.1 yards per play and 6.7 yards per pass attempt to a Michigan State team that's not exactly expected to be an offensive juggernaut. Let's hope Wulff sees something in the Cal defense he can exploit.

* National stats taken from cfbstats.com. The reason I only went back four years is because that's how far back their stats go.