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The most important person vs. Oregon State: the running backs

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Oregon State does one thing very, very well on defense and one thing very, very poorly. Luke Falk will need to hand the ball off more Saturday to exploit the Beavs defensive weakness.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Golf (oh yes, we’re going down this road again) is a game I am not stupendously skilled at. I range from terrible at some things like chipping and using a driver off the tee to pretty darn good at others like approach shots.

Get me 150 to 155 yards from the green in the fairway, put the 8 iron in my hand and most of the time, I’ll be on the dance floor within 25ish feet. It’s the one thing I’m really, really good at, so much so that I’ll eschew what might be the more conventional play on certain holes to get closer to the green in favor of ending up at that ideal distance. I hit a damned pitching wedge off the tee of a 295 yard par-4 once because the only thing working for me that day was the 8-iron (I shanked the tee shot by the way. Shows you what I get).

I wasn’t always great with the 8 iron. But once it became a strength in my game, I did everything I could to make sure I was in a position to use it.

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The absence of a running game for most of the past four seasons at Washington State was a confluence of factors. Sub-par offensive line play and a quarterback unwilling to check into runs chiefly among them but the running backs also just weren’t skilled enough to really help keep defenses honest and open up the passing game.

Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow really came into their own last year as quarterback Luke Falk also demonstrated a keener eye for when he could run the football. The addition of James Williams (BOOBIE) in 2016 combined with an offensive line that is finally big enough to push opponents around has given WSU something resembling a rushing attack. That’s not to say that Mike Leach’s Air Raid needs to be more balanced; it’s working quite well as is. But the threat of a running game makes things a lot easier on Luke Falk and his receivers since teams can’t just sell out to stop the pass like they used to.

So why are Wicks, Morrow, and Williams the most important player(s) this week?

Because the Oregon State Beavers are horribad against the run. Like ... really, really, ridiculously horribad.

Remember earlier this year when Mike Leach quipped that one day he’d run the ball on every play of a game? Against Oregon State, that may not be an altogether bad idea. The Beavers are 119th in the country when it comes to Rushing Defense S&P+, good for second-to-last in the Pac-12 while their passing defense ranks 12th in the nation. Whether that’s because teams don’t bother to throw because the rushing defense is so porous, I’m not sure. Our guest on the CougCenter Hour this week did say that it may be a product of injuries and depth issues for OSU up front and that their secondary has played relatively well all year.

The last time WSU faced a rushing defense this bad? The Oregon Ducks, 122nd in the country in Rushing Defense S&P+, and we all remember the running backs getting free everywhere in the yard during that game.

Last week, Luke Falk was not willing to run the ball against Arizona State. Chalk that up to good blitz disguises but ASU is also pretty good at stopping the run (20th). This week against Oregon State though, Falk must be willing to hand the ball to his talented backs and let them wreck havoc, even against boxes where the Beavers have a numbers advantage. The wrecking ball in Gerard Wicks, the speedster in James Williams, and the best parts of both in Jamal Morrow could make hay in against a struggling OSU defense.

The Cougs are finally well equipped to make teams pay on the ground. So hand the ball off to Wicks, Morrow, and Williams for a change on Saturday and give your arm a rest Luke. I don’t think you’ll be needing it much this weekend anyway.

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Playing golf in Whistler this past summer, I found myself 150 yards from the pin after a string of truly terrible holes (including a narrow miss on stepping in some bear dung in a tee box). Perfect, I thought. An easy 8-iron into the green and I’ve got a good chance at par.

As I watched the ball sail towards the pin, I remembered something: I’m playing golf at elevation. Roughly 2,500 feet above sea level. Whoops.

Off the back of the green and into a hazard. Never play, kids.

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The Washington State running backs. Your most important person(s) against Oregon State.