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Opponent Offense Preview: Washington State Cougars

Another transfer QB in the Pac-12 is finding success.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

The Players

In 2021, Washington State had their guy in QB Jayden de Laura. That lasted barely one whole season, and he was off to Arizona. They ended up taking QB Cam Ward from University of Incarnate Word, an FCS program in San Antonio. His head coach Eric Morris joined him as well, to join the staff as OC. Together, they had put up prolific numbers in the FCS ranks, culminating in a 2021 season that saw Ward throw for more than 4,600 yards and 47 touchdowns. This season he’s accumulated 2,772 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, completing 64% of his passes.

At 6-2 and 220 pounds, he pairs size with nimble movement and pocket awareness. He does a good job keeping his eyes downfield and has all the arm talent in the world. He’s the type of quarterback who will either hit his first read in rhythm, or have to use some off script creativity to beat the defense. Thankfully, he can make the the off platform throws from various arm angles or launch a rocket downfield with the flick of his wrist. The downside of his game is that he can have some “WTF” moments and be quite unpredictable. He’s an exciting playmaker, but the consistency is not there.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

After enduring a three game October losing streak in which the Cougars scored 14, 10, and 17 points, they have roared back to win three in a row, scoring 52, 28, and 31 points. A large part of this has been RB Nakia Waton’s return from injury to spark the offense. He’s piled up 51 rushes for 338 yards and 5 touchdowns, plus 101 receiving yards and a touchdown in that streak. This offense looks to the Wisconsin transfer both running and throwing.

When Ward throws, he’s looking for WR De’Zhaun Stribling, WR Donovan Ollie, and WR Robert Ferrel. Stribling and Ollie are both big targets at 6-3, and Ferrel is 5-8 and primarily lines up in the slot. Stribling leads the team in catches (44), yards (544), and touchdowns (5) and will get the ball in a variety of ways, and averages about 6.6 yards after the catch. Ollie is targeted the deepest of the three and is more of a possession receiver compared to Ferrel and Stribling.

The Scheme

Under OC Eric Morris, Washington State wants to pass and have done so at the same rate as Washington this season - 59% of the time. Unlike Washington, they do not push the ball downfield quite as aggressively, and their yards per attempt numbers rank near Cal in the well below average territory. A key weakness for this offense has been in pass protection. Ward has been sacked on nearly 7% of his drop backs, despite his ability to buy time with his legs.

The End

This could be a tricky offense for Washington to slow down without forcing Cam Ward into some mistakes. Nakia Watson has been playing really well - though it’s been against Stanford, Arizona, and ASU - and Washington’s tackling has been inconsistent this year, suffice it to say. That is a match up to keep an eye on.

Despite the tantalizing prospect that is Cam Ward, this is an offense still scoring just 27 points per game, and you have to squint at some advanced stats for that to look much better. The Huskies were embarrassed last season after 7 years of shutting down WSU offenses. The secondary this year has been an adventure to say the least, so it’s up the front seven to force Ward into drive killing mistakes. Go Dawgs.