Mike Leach has a reputation for building prolific offenses. The Air Raid system is a fast-paced, exciting brand of football that is designed to put point on the board in bunches with an impressive aerial display. He’s built the Washington State Cougars into the type of offense that has made him famous with a strong-armed quarterback and an impressive crop of receivers. His defense, on the other hand, remains the team’s Achilles’ heel after costing WSU dearly in their season-opening 41-38 loss to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
The offense played phenomenally and looked like a vintage Mike Leach passing machine. Connor Halliday had the best game of his career, completing 40 or 56 passes (71.4 percent) for 532 yards and five touchdowns against just one interception. He distributed the ball extremely well with 10 difference receivers recording a catch in the game led by senior Vince Mayle who posted a dominant 12-catch, 124-yard stat line with a touchdown. It was exactly what the Cougars wanted out of their offense, minus the end result.
Defensively, Washington State looked as bad as ever. The pass rush, which was supposed to be drastically improved this season, managed just one sack on Gary Nova and no quarterback pressures which is even more disappointing when you consider that Rutgers ranked No. 106 last season in sacks allowed, giving up 35 sacks of Nova. The defensive front was dominated all night as the Scarlet Knights found plenty of room to run the football, racking up 215 yards as a team, led by Paul James‘ 173 yards and three touchdowns. Whenever the Cougar offense drove down and scored, their defense could not make it hold up, surrendering a score right back to Rutgers on the very next drive.
In Washington State’s last two games (the Gildan New Mexico Bowl against the Colorado State Rams and the season opener against Rutgers), the offense has looked great. Over that stretch, the turnover-prone Halliday has just two interceptions while throwing for 942 yards with 11 touchdowns. Yet, the team is 0-2 in those games in large part because of a defense that could not make a lead stand up. The WSU offense has arrived and is good enough to make the Cougs dangerous. But as this defense showed in the opener against Rutgers, that may not be enough.