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NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State

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2017 WSU Football Preview: The weeks that have been kindest to the Cougs

Let’s just say Oregon State might want to watch out on week three!

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2017 Washington State Cougars football season. For previous installments, click here.

One of my favorite mantras of Mike Leach and his staff is "play the next play." It’s been fun watching this team begin to embody that statement and carry themselves with confidence and belief. The offense in particular relentlessly puts pressure on defenses and seems to flush the bad plays quickly out of their minds. Their discipline around that philosophy led me to looking at how well the Cougs not only play the next play, but play the next game, the goal being to see how they perform each week of the season to get an idea of what we can expect as the team winds its way through the fall.

I know we’re all tired of the now-meme status of Cougar openers, particularly openers against Big Sky schools. While I do have a ridiculous fear that we could be 0-6 in season openers under Leach come September 2 (not really, but OK maybe), the encouraging thing is that outside of the very weird, and if we’re making excuses, weather influenced game vs Portland State in 2015, WSU’s offense got off to a hot start in Week 1 of 2014 and 2016. Last season, Luke Falk posted his 4th highest yards per attempt of the year vs Eastern and the offense had its second highest % of plays for a first down since 2014. We all know how that game turned out, but hopefully the offense can replicate that performance to get rolling vs the Bobcats.

I’m really interested to see how the first three games playout for WSU as this is a different approach to the schedule compared to the last three seasons. WSU has typically reserved week 3 as what would be considered their weakest non-conference opponent, but Oregon State comes to the Palouse on September 16 with some hype building that they could be sneaky good (I personally am not really buying that hype, especially after what happened to them at Colorado State). That 3rd game of the season has resulted in WSU’s highest average points per play of any week of the season. That’s probably helped by the opponents they’ve faced, but hopefully the offense replicates their 2015 performance vs the Beavs and leaves the first quarter of the season undefeated.

The chart below lets you explore some of the data points above. It has data stretching back to 2012 but is filtered in the first view to look at the 2014-2016 seasons and is split out by each week of the season. The data table has the average for that stat for each week and the darker the shade of crimson the higher the number. Below that is the record for that week of the season and if you hover over a logo you’ll get a little bit more information about that specific game. It’s set to points per play, but you can explore 10 stats.

If you find something interesting in a different category screen shot it and drop it in the comments.

Turn your phone horizontal for best viewing experience or go to this link to open it a new tab

After WSU struggled to start the season last year, we all enjoyed the 8-game win streak that followed. They got into a rhythm and I wanted to see if there were any larger trends if we broke the season up into quarters. With 12 games, each set of 3 acts as the 1st through 4th quarter. In 2015 and 2016 the offense put up a touchdown extra per game in the 3rd quarter when compared to the 1st quarter of the season. WSU has also done its best job of protecting the ball in the 3rd quarter of the season turning it over less than once per game in 2015 and 2016. I’d hope to see that trend continue with Cal, Colorado and Arizona on the slate for that some stretch of games in 2017.

For the 2017 Cougars I think it all comes down to the 4th quarter of the season where they host Stanford and then go on the road to Utah and Washington. WSU faded badly vs Colorado and UW last season and that 4th quarter stretch of 2017 may be 3 of the 4 best defenses they play all season. With UW in that section of the season I think this may be a long shot, but if the WSU offense can replicate their 2nd and 3rd quarter of the season performances in that final stretch this could shape up to be a season for the ages.

The chart below is similar to the one above, but has the stats grouped by the quarters of the season. If you hover over a team you’ll get more detail on the game and you can go through the same stats as before. It’s set to turnovers per game (let’s pretend those purple W’s don’t exist), but if you find something else interesting take a screen shot and drop it in the comments or just call out the finding you uncovered.

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