Washington State and San Jose State both rank inside the top-10 nationally in pass attempts, having each thrown the ball more than 50 times in their season openers.
PULLMAN – The duration of Washington State’s season opener against Wyoming in Laramie last week was clocked at three hours, 46 minutes, which is somewhat surprising when you take into account the Cowboys’ dedication to running the football.
WSU’s next opponent is known to deploy the other method of moving an offense – the one the Cougars swear to – so if the Wyoming game felt like an eternity, it was probably only an appetizer.
It might not match the mind-numbing passing display put up by California and WSU in 2014 – a game in which Connor Halliday and Jared Goff combined to sling it 123 times – the nonconference matchup Saturday between the Cougars (1-0) and San Jose State Spartans (0-1) at 8 p.m. in Pullman probably will be an aerial show in its own right.
WSU and SJSU both rank inside the top-10 nationally in pass attempts, having each thrown the ball more than 50 times in their season openers. But betting services assume the Cougars will be able to make more of their passing attempts count and have thus made them a 33 1/2-point favorite over the Spartans.
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No other FBS opponent has come to Pullman a bigger underdog in the past seven years, according to Odds Shark’s database. Players might not be aware of that particular stat, but it isn’t news to them that they’re overwhelming favorites, and a coach can never be sure how something like that impacts a team the week leading up to the game.
“Well, you always wonder,” coach Mike Leach said Tuesday on a Pac-12 teleconference. “The biggest thing is, the most important thing for any team no matter who you play is to worry about yourself and just try to get better. We need to get a week better this week.”
Some might have called the Cougars complacent before they were upset by Portland State in 2015, and Eastern Washington in 2016 – and that probably did play at least a slight role – but Leach also suggests, “We weren’t that good back then, but we ended up rallying and having pretty good seasons.”
The WSU coach won’t defer to calling SJSU a bad football team, though the Spartans did suffer a very bad defeat in week one, losing 44-38 to FCS UC Davis – a team picked to finish last in the Big Sky Conference.
Instead, Leach says the Spartans are, “like every team right now, trying to find their identity,” and it’s especially accurate for a team still searching for a permanent solution at quarterback. Montel Aaron was SJSU’s most productive, most efficient passer in the opener, but it wasn’t until the Spartans exhausted their first two options that they resorted to the redshirt sophomore.
Offensively, SJSU’s top strength could be its receiving corps. Spartans coach Brent Brennan was the wide receivers coach at Oregon State during the Sean Mannion era and had a hand in developing Brandin Cooks, the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner.
“They have a good scheme of offense and all that stuff,” Leach said. “They spread it out and throw it around and have some gadgets up their sleeve, so they’re pretty good.”