Washington State needs to use its running game if it wants to win games

Washington State needs to use its running game if it wants to win games

Is it time to throw the towel in on Washington State’s season?

After losing their first two games to Rutgers and Nevada, the Cougars face an uphill battle in the quest to go to back-to-back bowl games, especially in a Pac-12 Conference that appears to be surging right now.

But the Washington State coaching staff thinks it might have a way to turn the Cougars fortunes and perhaps get the offense producing like it did a year ago — run the ball.

It seems strange that in a pass-happy attack the lynchpin to winning would be the ground game, but coach Mike Leach has had some of his most successful teams when he had a running game to take the pressure off the passing game.

“In the end they should have more yards than everybody, you know,” Leach said. “They should have more yards than everybody by position. We’ve had historically have had guys lead conferences in all-purpose yards without even doing a lot of special teams, so we need to get it in their hands a bunch.”

Washington State has a trio of running backs the coaching staff thinks might be as good as any they’ve had. Included in that mix is Marcus Mason, who led the team in all-purpose yards last season, but he is behind freshmen Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks. Senior Theron West also has emerged as a viable threat in the running back committee.

But through two games, this stable of running backs has accumulated 139 total rushing and receiving yards, which is just 14 percent of the Cougars’ total offense.

“That was one of the disappointments last game,” Leach said of his running backs having just 77 yards of the team’s 427 total yards. “Running backs should have touched the ball a lot more. I mean the running backs should have touched the ball a lot more, no question about it.”

The Cougars will have an opportunity against Portland State this weekend to get its running game some much-needed touches. Oregon State’s Storm Woods rushed for 125 yards in the season opener against Portland State and helped turn an otherwise close game into a 29-14 Oregon State victory.

But ultimately, it will fall on quarterback Connor Halliday how much the Cougar running backs touch the ball. According to the Spokesman-Review, Halliday calls the plays at the line of scrimmage and determines whether the team will have greater success running or passing the ball. Against Nevada, coaches said Halliday missed several opportunities where the Cougars could have exploited Nevada’s rushing defense and he’ll need to be more aware of those opportunities going forward.

If the running game can find some consistency perhaps the Cougars can finally notch a win and get some momentum going into the conference season.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at or follow her on Twitter!

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