After racking up 111 rushing yards against Oregon State and 136 yards against Oregon, the Cougars have a running threat for the first time in the Mike Leach era.

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Don’t look now, but the Air Raid offense now has an effective ground-attack wing.

After racking up 111 rushing yards in their 52-31 win over Oregon State on Saturday, and 136 rushing yards against Oregon the previous week, Washington State has now compiled two straight 100-yard rushing efforts for the first time since 2011.

That means, for the first time in the Mike Leach era, the Cougars have established a running threat.


WSU @ Arizona, 1 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

Take the 104 rushing yards against Portland State into account, and the Cougars have three 100-yard performances in six games this year. It’s a significant improvement from 2014, when the Cougars’ best rushing totals came midway through the season in back-to-back 78-yard efforts against Utah and Cal.

WSU averaged 39.8 rushing yards per game last season. This year, that has more than doubled, with Jamal Morrow, Gerard Wicks and Keith Harrington combining to produce 86.8 rushing yards per game.

That 86.8-yard average is the best in the Leach era at WSU and is hugely significant because, for the first time in four years, opponents are taking note of the Cougars’ ability to run the ball.

Suddenly, defenses can’t just sit back and cover the pass anymore.

“It’s definitely exciting to get a little more balance on the offense,” said senior left tackle Joe Dahl. “That’s a real tribute to our hard work in the offseason and our emphasis on the run game.

“It really kind of opens up the defense in terms of them putting more guys in the box, and we get more opportunities to pass it downfield. It just opens up the offense.”

Until last week, Oregon State coach Gary Andersen had heard plenty about the Air Raid offense and had seen it on film, but he’d never faced Leach’s offense on the field.

The effectiveness of the passing game was evident as he watched tape of the Cougars last week, Andersen said, but he was also surprised by how effectively the Cougars were running the ball.

“They are not afraid to run the ball, and they have a very wicked screen game that they use at times to cause issues,” he said.

The Cougars executed that screen game to perfection in the first half against Oregon State, with Luke Falk frequently connecting with his running backs in the flats for big gains.

Morrow’s 22-yard touchdown in the second quarter came off a screen pass, with at least 15 yards after the catch. The 21-yard gain from Harrington that set up Morrow’s second touchdown? That came off a screen pass, too.

After notching two consecutive wins against Pac-12 teams for the first time since 2013, perhaps that turnaround is near, and the running game has been a large part of the offense’s success this season.

WSU’s backs frequently act as a safety valve for quarterback Falk, with the pass game and run game now feeding off each other.

When the Cougars’ running backs get the ball, they make it count. Wicks led WSU’s backs against Oregon State, gaining 8.6 yards per carry and a career-high 69 yards. Harrington averaged 8.4 yards, and had 42 yards.

“Luke’s passing the ball, so it backs (defenses) off of us, and we’re just doing our job, hitting the holes hard and trying to take advantage of it every time we get the ball,” said Morrow, who finished with a career-high two touchdown receptions.