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The air raid. Ever heard of it?: Washington State Offense Preview

NCAA Football: California at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re reading this, you are probably aware of the air raid offense and Washington State’s propensity to the throw ball.

If not, here’s the cliff notes: They go four or five receiver sets on pretty much every play, and utilize wide splits on the offensive line to make edge rushers cover more ground to reach the quarterback. The playbook is fairly limited, with only a handful of total plays. But, this offense puts the onus on receivers to run different routes depending on what the defense gives (man or zone), giving it more variety than meets the eye.

A little different style this week. Let’s get into it.

Key Stats

Points per game: 39.3

Sack rate: 1.4% (#1 nationally)

Sack rate when blitzed: 4.6% (#13)

3rd down conversions: 45% (#25)

Passing yards per game: 400.5 (#1)

Red Zone Offense: 87% (#34)

S&P+ passing efficiency: #25

Pass play %: 71%

Yards per play: 6.3

Players to Watch

QB Gardner Minshew

70% completion, 4,325 yards, 36 TDs, 7 INT

Another year, another air raid QB putting up big numbers. For all the stats previous Mike Leach QBs piled up for the Cougars, it is clear that Minshew is the best of the bunch. He has great ball placement and is able to hit the deep out on the opposite hash with ease. Deep shots downfield drop over receivers’ shoulders nicely. He’s also a better athlete than Leach has had at QB in recent years, and can scramble more effectively than Luke Falk ever could. His OL gives him great protection, but when things break down, he has the athleticism to make plays. He’s got a big of that Baker Mayfield swagger about him too.

At times he can lock onto his first read and not make his progressions, but overall distributes the ball well with his super quick release. Despite this, he’s a legit NFL prospect. Given the 570+ pass attempts he’s made this season, it is remarkable he’s only thrown 7 INTs.

WR Easop Winston

47 catches, 600 yards, 8 TDs

Winston is a solid and steady possession receiver with great hands. Standing at 5-11, he brings quickness to the position. While he’s lost some reps to Dezmon Paton later in the season, he’s the only WR with at least 2 catches in each game this season.

WR Davontavean Martin

62 catches, 637 yards, 8 TDs

Martin is the teams second leading receiver by both yards and catches. At 6-3 and 185 pounds, he’s a long, lanky receiver with a large catch radius. He’s tied for the team lead with 8 TDs and often is a target deep down the sidelines once he gets to full speed. He’s great in one-on-one situations using his basketball player frame to snag the ball.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Stanford Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

WR Dezmon Patmon

54 catches, 735 yards, 4 TDs

Another receiver with size, Patmon stands at 6-4 and is the relative “explosive” option outside. He’s got the highest yards per catch and yards per target on the team and didn’t even begin the season as the starter. What really separates Patmon is his physicality. Not only does he weigh 220 pounds, he knows how to use his strength to shield defenders. WSU fans are beginning to think he might be the team’s best receiver.

RB James Williams

69 catches, 530 yards, 4 TDs

108 rushes, 487, 10 TDs

It just goes to show what a weapon James Williams that as a running back he’s first on the team with 69 catches. Not only is he a constant outlet for Minshew and a reliable check down receiver, plenty of plays are designed to go to him from the start. As you would expect because of this, he’s got a relative high catch percentage (89%) but lower yards per catch (7.7) than his WR counterparts. They go to him a lot and he is the only player on the team with more than 3 catches in each game this season.

When WSU does run, they like to use him creatively, as they did to open the scoring against Oregon. He’s a slippery back who can make defenders miss. Combined with freshman revelation Max Borghi, WSU has a strong 1-2 punch of duel threat running backs.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

X-Factor

Husky linebackers against the Cougar check down receivers is the critical match up. I’m looking at you, BBK. I trust the secondary to cover up receivers downfield more often than not. I trust them to hit hard enough to make Cougar WRs think twice about catching passes later in the game. We’ve seen this not only this year, but over the years. But, how will the Huskies handle themselves on 3rd down? The pass rush isn’t explosive this year, and Gardner Minshew avoids sacks as well as anybody. If he has time in the pocket, how easily will he be able to convert 3rd-and-mediums to the combo of Borghi and Williams with passes out of the backfield?

Offensively, Myles Gaskin and the run game should do enough against an undersized WSU defense to be able to play “keep away” and limit Washington State’s possessions; whether or not they can actually score is another question, I’m just talking about eating clock. Washington State is 10th in the country in finishing drives with points, so the defense will need to prevent easy completions on 3rd downs to get off the field, and give the ball back to the offense.