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WSU Vs. Colorado: Reflecting On Run/Pass Distribution

If you're a regular reader, you've no doubt taken notice of the 200-comment megathread about a dozen spots below this on the page. What started out as an examination of Carl Winston's ability to gain yards after first contact transformed into a very, very long discussion about the value of "balance" in an offense.

I was squarely on the side of those who believe, philosophically, that balance isn't necessarily important, and I found it interesting that nobody thought to throw this -- from my "3 Things I Want To See" against Colorado -- in my face in the process of the discourse:

No more than a 55/45 pass/run ratio. The Cougars dropped back to throw the ball 50 times [vs. SDSU], against just 20 rushes. And the ratio wasn't all that different than that before the game started to get out of hand in the fourth quarter. I just don't think this team can be successful with Marshall Lobbestael throwing the ball 70 percent of the time, as I question whether Lobbestael can truly get the ball down the field well enough to take advantage of Colorado's weak secondary -- he underthrew a number of balls against SDSU. This team is never going to have a 50/50 ratio with the weapons it has at receiver, but being able to approach that while still being able to move the ball would be a huge step in the right direction.

I have two thoughts in the wake of the Cougars again throwing the ball 70 percent of the time this past weekend.

  1. I never intended for it to be a statement about what's best philosophically, only what I thought would be best against Colorado.
  2. I was wrong.

Hey, I'm man enough to admit it. After what I saw against SDSU, I had very little confidence that the Cougars could win on Lobbestael's arm, but it turns out that winging it 50 times really was the best strategy against the Buffs. When I wrote that, I wasn't aware that Colorado's secondary was as depleted as it actually was. Beyond that, many of the passes amounted to long hand offs -- lots of screens and short crossing routes.

I criticized offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy a little bit in Cougar Sports Weekly for not running the ball enough against San Diego State, but he had a great game plan against Colorado. My concern that Lobbestael wouldn't be able to get the ball down the field well enough wasn't an issue because of the types of routes WSU used to attack the Buffs. And when Lobbestael did throw the ball down field, Marquess Wilson either bailed him out with a spectacular catch or was so wide open, Lobbestael's arm strength didn't matter.

I do understand where those who want to see WSU run the ball more are coming from. It's important to be able to run the ball effectively, because there are situations where you have to do so. But WSU has demonstrated that it can run the ball when it needs to -- or, in the case of Jared Byers' touchdown, execute a safe, short pass that could be used in a short-yardage situation. The Cougs scored three touchdowns in four red zone possessions, including their first TD where they ran the ball three consecutive times to punch it in.

It obviously still remains to be seen if WSU will be able to effectively run the ball 30 times if the situation calls for it. Fortunately, Saturday probably won't be that situation. The Bruins' secondary is awful -- nearly as thin as Colorado's -- and if you believe John Gold of the L.A. Daily News, UCLA will be sitting back and daring Lobbestael to pick them apart. Moving through progressions isn't Lobbestael's strong suit, but if there are lots of underneath routes available, last Saturday would seem to indicate that he could be successful throwing the ball a large percentage of the time against the Bruins.

There will be other games with tighter windows where the Cougs will probably need to be able to run the ball a little more to win the game. I don't think Saturday is one of them, so if Sturdy decides it's a good idea to throw the ball 70 percent of the time again, I won't be fundamentally opposed.