River Cracraft was baffled, grabbing the stat sheet lying on the table just for verification that what he was being told was correct.
In the process of winning its fourth straight game and inching closer toward a spot in the AP Top 25, Washington State proved it doesn’t always need to score via the arm of quarterback Luke Falk.
The Cougars’ ground attack is real and their current ability running the ball could be an indicator of success to come.
“Did he not throw a touchdown?” asked Cracraft, Washington State’s second-leading wide receiver. “It just shows that our run game is strong and our offensive line is playing well and they’re playing aggressive, and obviously our backs, you’re seeing the production from them speaks for itself.”
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Washington State’s 27-21 win over UCLA on a dreary, wet night last Saturday was another validation of the Cougars’ evolving offense under Mike Leach. All three of Washington State’s touchdowns came via the ground — two by Gerard Wicks and one from Jamal Morrow.
It was the first time in 24 career games that Falk did not throw a touchdown pass and the first time a Leach-coached team scored all of its offensive touchdowns on the ground since the 2012 Apple Cup, a 31-28 win over rival Washington.
“If we win every game and I don’t throw a touchdown, I’d be just fine and be happy. If I throw for like five yards and we win, I’d be a happy guy,” Falk said. “Just doing what we can to win and it shows we’ve got a lot of big guys up front, our backs can make plays and we’re not one-dimensional.”
Washington State was on the verge of a fourth straight game of rushing for at least 100 yards as a team for the first time since 2005 until the final play of the game, when Falk took a knee to run out the clock, lost 6 yards and dropped the Cougars below the 100-yard mark.
Washington State is averaging 140.2 yards rushing per game, good for 101st in the country and 11th in the Pac-12, thanks to the trio of Wicks, Morrow and freshman James Williams. Yet that’s a huge improvement from a year ago, when the Cougars won nine games despite averaging 80 yards per game on the ground. Even more dramatic is the change in touchdowns rushing. Last year, Washington State had just eight running TDs. The Cougars have 16 already this season.
Reaching 100 yards rushing as a team may not appear to be a significant accomplishment. Through the first half of this season, 120 of 128 FBS teams were averaging at least 100 yards per game on the ground. But in the Cougars offense that is so heavily reliant on the passing game, getting some balance from the run is critical.
Since Leach’s arrival in 2012, the Cougars are 11-4 when they have rushed for at least 90 yards as a team. They are 14-27 in games where they fail to reach that mark on the ground.
It’s not a perfect measure, but it does show the importance of not always chucking it around the field. And it’s a track record that Leach established during his time at Texas Tech. When the Red Raiders rushed for at least 90 yards, they went 50-15 under Leach. When they didn’t, their record was 34-28.
Leach’s best team at Texas Tech — the 2008 squad that went 11-2 — averaged 117.5 yards rushing per game.
“It’s our goal to reach over 100 yards each game, and just run hard and do our jobs,” Wicks said.