The Washington State Cougars will kick off the 2014 season with a “home” game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Thursday as they look to build off their success from 2013 where they went bowling for the first time in a decade. The stage is set for the Cougs to get off to a fast start in Year 3 under Mike Leach with a veteran quarterback in Connor Halliday and a stacked receiving corps that has mastered the Air Raid system. That combination will spell trouble for Rutgers who should prepare to have their secondary shredded by Halliday and the WSU offense.
Last season, the Rutgers pass defense was one of the worst in the country, ranking No. 122 (out of 125) FBS teams giving up 312 yards per game through the air. Their eight interceptions were tied for No. 98 in the country and their 31 touchdown passes allowed were the fifth most in college football. The Scarlet Knights were forced to throw young players like Nadir Barnwell and Anthony Cioffi into the mix as freshmen and they struggled to keep up even against the mid-tier competition of the AAC.
By contrast, WSU, led by Halliday, was one of the most prolific passing teams in the nation last season. They ranked No. 4 in yardage, averaging 368 yards per game through the air. Halliday finished the year with 4,597 yards and 34 touchdowns, though his 22 interceptions were a serious black mark on his stat sheet. With another year of experience under his belt and everyone back in the receiving corps, Halliday is poised to have a big season (especially if he can cut down on the interceptions).
For this matchup, it’s one team’s strength against the other’s weakness. WSU brings an up-tempo, aggressive passing attack with experience and depth across the board while Rutgers is still trying to put together some semblance of a pass defense. While their youth in 2013 will likely pay dividends somewhat this season, Rutgers can’t expect a complete turnaround from their secondary and will likely struggle against the pass again this fall. Their confidence certainly won’t be helped by this season opener, however.
Washington State is going to press their advantage through the air and end up shredding the Rutgers’ secondary, burning them deep for big plays all night long.