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WSU Preview: Offense

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Read up on WSU's prolific Air Raid offense in advance of one of the most important Apple Cups in recent history.

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback

Luke Falk (So., 6-4, 205) OR Peyton Bender (RSFr., 6-0, 187)

Before last week's injury Luke Falk was having himself an enormous season. 418 of 591 passing (70.7%) for 4266 yards, 36 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions. He has taken Leach's air raid to a higher level than Halliday ever could, and in many ways, this year should just be the beginning of his story.

Unfortunately, a head injury may cost Falk the chance to participate in one of the most important games on WSU's schedule. If he is forced to sit out, it will simply be unfair. After losing to the Huskies to end a season in which he was forced into action as an injury replacement, Falk deserves a shot now that this is firmly his offense (not that his 2014 Apple Cup performance was anything to sneeze at.)

Football is routinely unfair, and so we should all prepare for the possibility that Peyton Bender will start behind center.

Bender supposedly played well enough through the fall to force an actual competition with Falk. He threw an interception in very limited action against Portland State to start off his career. Then, in the win over UCLA, he entered the game long enough to complete 2 of 5 passes for 67 yards and a score.

The redshirt freshman's most extensive action came just last week against Colorado in the wake of Falk's injury. He was solid, with 13 of 22 passing for 133 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception.

The absence of Falk undoubtedly hurts the Cougars, but we don't know by how much because we know next to nothing about Bender. Not long ago WSU's offense looked doomed by the loss of Halliday and the promotion of an unknown quantity by the name of Luke Falk.

Bender will still be throwing to the same star-studded receiving corps, and he has, at the very least, demonstrated the prerequisite ability to look competent. He hasn't been a complete mess in any of his limited opportunities and he has had a week to prepare knowing full well that he may have to start.

My money is on Bender starting and doing his best 2014 Luke Falk impression: more composed and productive than anyone could reasonably expect but prone to occasional error.

Offensive Line

LT Joe Dahl (Sr., 6-5, 310), LG Gunnar Eklund (Sr., 6-7, 305), C Riley Sorenson (Jr., 6-4, 319), RG Eduardo Middleton (Jr., 6-5, 310), RT Cole Madison (So., 6-5, 303)

First, it's worth noting that the left side of this line has been pretty banged up in recent weeks. Dahl is listed as a starter but likely will not play. In this scenario Andre Dillard (RSFr., 6-5, 270) will start at LT for the second straight week. Sorensen also missed the Colorado game and it is unclear if he will be healthy enough to start.

This unit is tied for last in the conference in sacks allowed with 35. In reality, the increased number of dropbacks in this offense does the line a disservice when looking at crude counting stats.

For example, the Huskies have allowed 32 sacks but have only attempted around 340 passes compared to over 600 for the Cougars. To be fully accurate, the comparison should be in terms of sacks per dropback rather than actual passing attempts, but the point is still illustrated. WSU is not a fantastic pass-protecting line, but they are superior in that respect to the Huskies and several other Pac-12 teams.

Run blocking has been a bright spot. All three contributing running backs average well over 5.0 yards per carry. One might discount this statistic because the Cougars do not run as often as many other teams. I think that would be unfair to this offensive line. Run blocking well as a cohesive unit often requires establishing a consistent run game. WSU's linemen haven't had that luxury and it hasn't held them back.

Running Backs

Gerard Wicks (So., 6-0, 224), Keith Harrington (RSFr., 5-8, 180) OR Jamal Morrow (So., 5-9, 190)

Wicks is a legit runner. In fact, just last week he crossed over the 100-yard mark in a win over Colorado. The volume of run calls still isn't anything approaching real balance, but the execution is there and Leach has shown a growing willingness to take the easy 5+ yards on the ground when defenses start to assume pass.

Wicks' line of 95 carries for 557 yards and 3 touchdowns doesn't jump out, but consider the 5.9 yards per carry efficiency. Surprisingly, Wicks isn't a huge threat as a pass-catcher. He's managed 34 receptions, but for only 132 receiving yards, a measly 3.9 yards per catch average.

Harrington is the bigger threat as a receiving back. He leads all backs with 42 catches for 341 yards and 3 scores. Morrow has also factored in with 23 catches, 210 yards, and 3 TDs.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, it's not wise to see Harrington or Morrow check in and assume they'll be running routes. Both have carried the ball sparingly but with even better efficiency on a per carry basis than Wicks.

Wide Receivers

X Dom Williams (Sr., 6-2, 200), Y River Cracraft (Jr., 6-0, 200), H Robert Lewis (So., 5-9, 170), Z Gabe Marks (Jr., 6-0, 190)

WSU's game notes include Cracraft as a starter but he hasn't played in a few weeks. Cracraft's absence puts the emphasis even more squarely on Gabe Marks and Dom Williams.

Marks has been the true primary target  in a system that does not always necessitate one. He leads the team by a wide margin with 91 catches, while his 1067 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns also set the pace.

Williams, now in his senior year, has been an important contributor for years and after three similarly solid seasons, he has seen a nice boost to his role and his statistics: 67 catches, 950 yards, 10 touchdowns. All career highs.

After Williams and Marks we see a pretty steep drop in production with Cracraft likely out, but Kyrin Priester and Kyle Sweet round out the receiving corps.