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Interactive Graphic: How WSU’s #SpeedD can turn the Apple Cup

The Cougs have imposed their will on opponents this season. Can they do it to the Huskies, too?

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

Luke Falk will pull on the Crimson and Gray (or icy whites or anthracites) for the last time in a regular season game this Saturday against the Washington Huskies. One of the things that I’ve always appreciated about Falk has been his consistency, whether it’s his calm demeanor on late game drives or having near identical stat lines in 2015 and 2016.

I think much of the consternation directed his way this season by the Washington State Cougars faithful has been a surprising dip in his performance on the road. His first two full seasons as starter he was the same if not a better player at times when outside of the friendly confines of Martin Stadium, but this year has been a different story.

Here is his line when at home versus when on the road:

Luke Falk Home/Away Split Stats

Split G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att TD Int Att/G Yards/G
Split G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yards/Att TD Int Att/G Yards/G
All Games 11 479 320 66.8 3224 6.7 29 10 43.5 293.1
at Home 7 302 215 71.2 2252 7.5 22 3 43.1 321.7
on Road/Neutral Site 4 177 105 59.3 972 5.5 7 7 44.3 243

Unless that ship gets righted, we’re going to need the #SpeedD to ball out in Montlake and keep WSU in the game for some ulcer-inducing fourth quarter magic for the Cougs to come away with the North.

Worried yet? Fear not, as Alex Grinch is stewarding a defense ranked 11th in yards per game, 15th in S&P+ and has this guy named Hercules Mata’afa wrecking shop in opponents backfields. While I felt better after thinking through those data points, I still can’t shake the feeling that Jake Browning has a knack for gutting the Cougs.

Since this defense tends to force the issue instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop, I wanted to see how far they have pushed teams off their season averages in a few passing categories and how that could impact the Huskies and Browning in particular.

While the last time the Cougs were in Husky Stadium was a time to forget, that Hercules guy had one of the few bright spots when he chased down Browning and showed a clear sign of the things to come. I think Hercules and his brother in arms, the Cobra from Samoa, Frankie Luvu, have a chance to recreate that moment against Browning a few times this Saturday. Before UW lost Trey Adams for the year they were going 25 pass attempts in-between sacks. He went down versus Arizona State, and the Huskies are now giving up a sack every 13.6 pass attempts. The Cougs are currently taking down opposing quarterbacks every 10.8 pass attempts and are second nationally in adjusted sack rate, per S&P+.

The below chart looks at the difference between the per game average in drop backs per sack (pass attempts + sacks + interceptions/sacks) for each FBS opponent WSU played this year compared to their game vs the Cougars*. To get a projection for UW in the series of selections you can choose from, I applied the delta between WSU’s opponents per game averages versus the average game against the Cougars and added that to UW’s per game passing stat line. (I did not do the inverse to see how much better UW’s offense performs vs the averages of their competition because I would rather not think about Jake Browning any more than necessary.)

*There is no logo for Arizona on the “vs. WSU” side as they didn’t register a sack vs the Wildcats.

WSU gets 1.2 more sacks per game than their opponents give up on average. Applying that delta to UW’s season average of giving up 1.3 sacks a game projects out to dropping Browning 2.56 times Saturday. Applying the same for the other categories in the drop backs per sack calculation puts the Cougs sacking Browning every 11.5 drop backs to hit that 2.5 mark. While a big change from the 21 drop backs per sack UW is currently giving up, the Cougs have gotten after their opponent’s quarterback way more than their opponents have given up in their other games.

If you’re on mobile, you can tilt your phone horizontal for a better view. Or, if the chart isn’t showing up for you, click this link to open it in a new tab.

While the d-line has done a great job of getting pressure, the #SpeedD’s secondary (aka the Hot Boy$) have nabbed 10 of the defense’s 14 interceptions. Browning tends to take really good care of the football and is only throwing an interception every 67 pass attempts in 2017. His last pick came against Oregon, 83 pass attempts ago. Hopefully Jalen Thompson, Hunter Dale, Robert Taylor and Sean Harper Jr can capitalize on a rattled Browning if the front 7 is getting the pressure they’ve shown they can get.

If all things go the Cougars’ way, below is what UW’s passing line would look like based on how WSU has moved other QB’s off their averages this year. I think the Cougs will need an epic performance to produce something like the below, but if they can do it, they’ll likely punch their ticket to Santa Clara and a date with the Trojans as Pac-12 North Champions.

UW Per Game Passing Average vs Projection against WSU defense

Category Completions Passing Attempts Completion % Passing Yards Yards Per Attempt Passing TD Interceptions Dropbacks Per Int Sacks Dropbacks Per Sack
Category Completions Passing Attempts Completion % Passing Yards Yards Per Attempt Passing TD Interceptions Dropbacks Per Int Sacks Dropbacks Per Sack
Per Game Average 19.09 27.45 69.54% 233.55 8.51 1.6 0.45 64.4 1.4 21.52
Projected vs. WSU 15.88 26.05 60.96% 186.30 7.15 0.8 0.85 34.7 2.6 11.51