As the Washington State Cougars look to get things turned around in year two with Mike Leach, their focus will undoubtedly be on trying to unleash the Air Raid offense. Last season, the offense failed to find any rhythm whatsoever and quarterback Connor Halliday would force throws into coverage, resulting in far too many turnovers. If the Cougars hope to get their offense on track in 2013, they’ll need to feed wide receiver Brett Bartolone which makes him a prime candidate for a breakout season.
As a freshman in 2012, Bartolone actually led the Cougars in receptions, hauling in 53 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns. He showed he could be a sure-handed possession receiver underneath coverage as his 4.4 receptions per game average rank second among returning receivers. His 8.21 yards per reception average was the lowest on the team for all receivers with 20 catches or more, proving his worth came in the short passing game.
That short passing game could turn out to be the key to the Washington State passing game in 2013. Last season, Halliday forced far too many throws into coverage trying to hit the big play over the top. For every one that he connected on, he had another get intercepted and two more fall incomplete and stall a drive. This offseason, Leach has stressed the importance of working through his reads more completely and taking the throws that the defense is giving him, even if it’s just a five-yard check down.
So far in camp, Halliday appears to be taking that message to heart. He admits last season he was trying to force the ball down the field too often and feels more comfortable now taking the check down if that’s all that is available. That means a lot more looks for Bartolone, who has carved out a nice role for himself out of the slot, and a potential monster sophomore season.
While much of the attention heading into this season will be on the big-play ability of Gabe Marks, Bartolone’s prowess in the slot and underneath coverage could be the difference-maker for WSU in 2013. Will he turn those extra looks into a breakout season?