In Saturday’s 52-23 rout of Oregon State, Washington State fans saw the Air Raid offense in peak shape. Quarterbacks Luke Falk and Tyler Hilinski threw the ball 58 times for 431 yards and six touchdowns, completing 72 percent of their attempts without tossing an interception.
If nothing else, it was a good day of cardio for the visiting defensive backs.
By no means is it startling that Washington State’s offense is throwing the ball at a high volume once again. Falk is a fifth-year senior who’s as advanced running Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack as any of his predecessors – if not more so.
Even so, WSU’s run-to-pass ratio might seem a little staggering considering the weapons the Cougars have in the backfield this season – Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks were supposed to form one of the most dynamic trios in the conference and supplement an offense that was already one of the country’s most potent.
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In three games, only 54 run plays have been drawn up for Morrow, Williams and Wicks. The tailbacks have rushed for just 287 yards and at 77.3 yards per game, the Cougars rank No. 124 in the FBS. WSU could be doing a lot worse per carry – the Cougars average 3.41 yards, but that too drops them into the nation’s lower third.
By comparison, the Cougars have called 183 passes, which means they’re throwing it 76 percent of the time.
“I think we’ve got to get better at (running),” Leach said Monday. “I think our backs have to hit the hole better, I think our backs have to block better and I think our offensive line has to come off the ball better and I think the offensive line has to play in space better. And I think we’ve got to steadily improve at it.”
Against Oregon State, the running backs had 13 carries for 76 yards, and it took 15 minutes for the first one to come. With more than 10 minutes to play in the second quarter, James Williams took a designed handoff from Falk and split the OSU defense open for 27 yards. That set up a 10-yard touchdown pass two plays later. The Cougars ran the ball just twice more the rest of the half.
Leach insists the running backs ought to get more out of the carries they’re being afforded, but says he hasn’t spent much time thinking about the lopsided run-to-pass ratio, or lack of offensive balance, the numbers might indicate through three games.
“I don’t have a set number of runs,” he said. “I'll make sure the running backs get the ball, but it’s not like, ‘Oh we have to run and all the sudden there’s some kind of sacred ground under the feet of people who run the ball.’ ... But yeah, I do think we need to get better at it.”
Senior linebacker Peyton Pelluer, who suffered a season-ending foot fracture against Oregon State, watched Tuesday’s practice sporting a walking stick and a good-sized boot on his left foot.
Linebackers coach Ken Wilson suggested to the Seattle Times that the team hasn’t officially given up hope of Pelluer returning to action at some point. But in divulging the injury Sunday, Pelluer’s father, Scott, said his son will undergo surgery within two weeks and then faces rehabilitation that will take him well beyond the end of football season.
The Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune contributed to this report.