The top three things some people know about these Washington State Cougars are passing, passing and passing.
But with the Apple Cup’s 12:30 p.m. Friday kickoff ticking ever closer, Washington coach Chris Petersen devoted time Wednesday to praise the WSU defense and the effective counterpunch of its running game.
“Last week, I think they ran the ball for about 10 yards a pop,” he said. “If we could do that we’d be extremely pleased with ourselves. And that’s kind of overlooked. I don’t want to say that’s a deceptive part, because that’s what they’re doing these days. And everyone’s so concerned with the pass game — which you have to be when they’re the No. 1 passing team in the country — that if you don’t stop that run game, then all of a sudden you’re really on your heels.”
Statistically, the Cougars have the lowest-ranked rushing offense in the Pac 12: fewest attempts, fewest yards, lowest average, fewest touchdowns. However, in their most recent game, a 27-3 win over Colorado, they ran 21 times for 149 — an average of 7.1 yards. Leading rusher Gerard Wicks came close to that 10-yard average Petersen mentioned: 123 yards on 13 carries.
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WSU also has become an effect screen-passing team, using that almost as part of its running game. Wicks has 34 receptions, while running backs Keith Harrington and Jamal Morrow have 42 and 23 respectively.
On defense, Washington State shows up in the middle of the conference: sixth in total defense and scoring defense. But once again, Petersen sees beyond those numbers.
“I’ve said it all along: This defensive line is extremely disruptive,” he said. “For whatever reason, everybody always talks about offenses — and in Washington State’s case, rightly so. But their defense is really good, and I think this team is playing as well as anybody in our conference now.”
WSU coach Mike Leach credits defensive coordinator Alex Grinch with helping the Cougars create a defensive identity that he calls “congruent” with that of the offense and special teams.
“Not only has our defense developed an identity, but they’ve also improved and are steadily improving,” Leach said. “… If you have a real clear, specific, intense teaching approach on one side of the ball, and passive on the other, its makes an incongruent locker room, incongruent team. … I think having the same tone and philosophy about things is very important.”
On Wednesday, Grinch was included among 36 nominees for the Broyles Award, which annually honors college football’s top assistant coach.
The Huskies got an early start on the Thanksgiving celebration with a team luau Wednesday night.
The team will hold its final pregame practice Thursday morning before taking time to celebrate with teammates and family.
“We have a lot of families rolling in right now,” Petersen said. “(After practice) we’ll have some Thanksgiving late brunch with them. And then we go to the hotel with them later on. … So they’ll definitely get their (family) time, and I think everybody’s excited about people rolling in.”