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Interactive Graphic: Comparing WSU and Hawaii

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Cheez-It Bowl - Air Force v Washington State Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Washington State Cougars are coming off of their best offensive performance in the Mike Leach era. Anthony Gordon broke a ton of records, they averaged 37 points per game, and if not for Apple Cup and the turd of a bowl game, I think we’d all feel very satisfied with this season.

However, change is now afoot with Nick Rolovich and his Run and Shoot offense on their way to Pullman. Where did the Hawaii Warriors stack up compared to this legendary Cougar offense and not-so-legendary Cougar defense?

Water Cooler Talking Points On The Offenses:

  • Hawaii was second-most improved team in the country on 3rd down in 2019, increasing their conversion rate 13% to 47% (12th nationally)
  • The Warriors were 26th in points per play (WSU was 15th) and they closed strong with their last 3 games being significantly higher than their season avg (WSU’s last 3 games were significantly lower than their season avg, did not finish strong)
  • Hawaii was 16th in converting trips inside the 40 to TDs, WSU was 15th. Hawaii was 16th in Red Zone TD rate, WSU was 44th. The Warriors were good at finishing drives

The below chart compares the WSU and Hawaii offenses. Aside from the above, you’ll notice that they were both very, very efficient. Whether it was running or passing, both offenses moved the ball. WSU, as we know, is an extreme outlier in quantity of passes and many of those passes are essentially running plays, but the Cougs threw the ball 77.9% of the time last season. Hawaii threw the ball 61.4% of the time, good for 4th nationally.

When comparing their offenses, the biggest difference is that Hawaii’s QB’s got about 11 carries a game (this data includes scrambles and sacks), vs Anthony Gordon averaging 3 mostly via sack or scramble. The other category that will probably soothe the soul of many a Cougar is Hawaii’s significantly better production in Havoc Rate. That stat is measuring how often a team takes a negative play, gets a pass batted or turns the ball over. Hawaii was 9th nationally, with only 13% of their plays getting disrupted by the opposing defense, where WSU was 46th getting disrupted 16.6% of the time. If these two teams met, it would be a lot of yards and a lot of points.

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Now the defense. I feel like I should put some type of “viewer discretion is advised” warning on this portion of the story. These two defenses are the Mad Men “Not Great Bob!” gif come to life. My hope with what I’m about to share with you is that this has more to do with resource limitations, both coaching and recruiting and less to do with any defensive philosophy. A much larger pool of money for the assistant coaching staff hopefully results in better coaching talent and some improvement, especially if Rolovich can land Scottie Hazelton from the Kansas State Wildcats, as has been rumored.

Water Cooler Talking Points On The Defenses:

  • Both teams struggled to stop opposing offenses from being efficient in moving the ball
  • WSU was 126th in giving up explosive plays, Hawaii was 75th
  • WSU was 64th in stopping opposing offenses from scoring a TD in the red zone, Hawaii was 46th
  • Both team struggled mightily in short-yardage situations

The below chart compares the Hawaii and WSU defenses. There is nothing much to say here, other than this is the area of most concern for WSU going forward. Due to attrition in the secondary and a small defensive line, I don’t know if this is going to turn around quickly. On the bright side Hawaii’s top recruit in the 2020 class was JC DT Kemon Smith; he was 31st nationally for JC d-lineman, which isn’t that impressive, but possibly points to Rolovich having good connections in the JC ranks or at least a willingness to go there for talent to shore up the defense. I’m more so looking forward to doing a similar post after WSU hires a defensive coordinator because it should be a better story than the below.

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Dynamic, innovative offensive mind with question marks on defense. We should all be feeling right at home with that cocktail. Mike Leach generally chose not to adapt his Air Raid to the changes of the collegiate game and we saw first hand how that played out against fast, disciplined defenses. Rolovich has a reputation as an innovator and this offense is going to be another change up for opposing defenses to have to prepare for. His offense puts the defense in tough match ups and I can’t wait to see how our skill position players exploit the space they’ll find themselves in. Rolovich is a very aggressive play caller.

Below is a chart of the made up stat #NeverKick which looks at of all the 4th downs a team faces, how often do they go for it vs kicking or punting. Hawaii shot up the chart to land at #3 nationally this season, going for it 35% of the time, while Leach was starting to get more conservative in his time at WSU. I’ll leave you with this chart to make up for the sour taste in my mouth from looking at the defense. Rolovich is a great fit offensively, and he just needs to go make the right hires on defense to keep the greatest run in Cougar football history rolling.

If you’re coming from twitter, using Google AMP or Apple News click here to view the chart and come back to the story. If you’re on mobile tilt your phone horizontally for best viewing experience.