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Interactive Graphic: WSU’s Offense is flying

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WSU’s offense is off to a start never before seen in the Leach era.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 New Mexico State at Washington State Photo by Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Friday night on ESPN we get to see the first big test for Washington State. Going on the road on a short week with a new QB has had me worried about this game since the schedule came out. Anthony Gordon and the WSU offense has assuaged many of those concerns through the first two weeks. While we’ve got questions on defense, the offense is off to a special start.

The chart below looks at yards per play for every FBS offense for 2018 and 2019 for each week of the regular season. WSU was #2 in week 1 with 8.96 yards per play and #3 in week 2 with 10.42 (side note, how awesome that in his first start Ryan Hilinski led South Carolina to the highest yards per play of any team in the country?). Also highlighted is 2018 where WSU got off to slow starts vs Wyoming and San Jose State. Those two yards per play outputs are the best of any WSU offense since 2006. Ask all the questions you want about the caliber of defenses the Cougs have faced (and there are many), but WSU has played a lot of bad teams and hasn’t produced like this.

The other reason for excitement? The team that beat out WSU in week 1 of the season in yards per play was none other than Oklahoma, who of course played Houston. The Sooners averaged an insane 11.25 yards per play, only 5 teams went above that mark in all of 2018. Houston also ran up over 400 yards on Oklahoma, but ranked 57th in week 1 in yards per play and were 70th in week 2 vs Prairie A&M

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When Gage Gubrud signed with WSU I fully expected him to be QB1. It seemed like the kind of move where Leach had his guy from the start and I wasn’t concerned when Gordon beat Gubrud out, but I was surprised. Air Gordon has delivered on the confidence that Mike Leach has put in him and then some.

This version of the Air Raid has historically been much more about efficiency than explosive plays. Through two weeks though, Gordon is raining fire on opposing secondaries. The below chart looks at total yards by each play of the game. The goal is to see how a game flows and where a team takes off or stalls. A big reason for the steady pacing of the WSU offense is Gordon’s yards per attempt. His first two appearances with WSU (12 YPA and 11.9 YPA) are the best of any Cougar QB in the Mike Leach era. D’Eriq King is not off to as hot of a start in 2019 as he was in 2018. Week 1 vs Rice last season he went for 13.3 yards per attempt vs 6.2 vs Oklahoma in their season opener. He followed it up with 5.6 yards per attempt last week. The real nice take away from this chart? No turd quarter against Northern Colorado, WSU came out and scored 3 touchdowns and boat raced the second half into a blow out. You can also check out Houston’s games vs Oklahoma and Prairie A&M. My big take away from the Oklahoma game was that Houston struggled to apply a bend, but don’t break strategy.

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We knew this offense could be really, really good even before the quarterback battle was decided. I’m incredibly happy for Gordon and excited to see him and the WSU offense off to such a hot start. Through the first two games Houston’s safety’s are second on the team in tackles on rushing plays (30% of total tackles). Typically you’d want to see your defensive line or line backers in that spot. I think the new vertical approach Gordon is taking can open a ton of space for Max Borghi on the ground Friday. Vegas seems to think it’s going to be a shoot out with 74.5 O/U. Hopefully WSU drops 50 for the third consecutive week and all bettors hit the under in a big Cougar win.