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CFF Targets - Big jump coming in year two for WSU's Cam Ward
WSU's new OC Ben Arbuckle has a strong track record at the QB position; his latest understudy could see a massive increase in his CFF value this season
New card. What do you think? (Van Patten)
Pale Nimbus. Impressive. Very nice.
- Christian Bale, American Psycho (2000)
Let me begin this article by saying RIP to the Pirate, Mike Leach. It's hard to think about the Washington State football program (WSU) without remembering Leach. His impact on this program and college football (CFB) in general was immense and cannot be overstated.
The WSU admin has been trying to recapture Leach’s air-raid magic since the moment he left, to various degrees of success. Their latest hire — Ben “Pale Nimbus” Arbuckle is an air-raid disciple who was one of Zach Kittley’s understudies at Western Kentucky (WKU) and Houston Baptist (HBU).
Full disclosure, nobody actually calls Arbuckle the Pale Nimbus. In fact, it doesn’t actually make any sense to use that as a nickname; but here at Volume Pigs we’re all about trend setting, and as the WSU admin recently traded out one air-raid coach for an impressive and very nice new business car… I mean OC, I thought it could be appropriate.
Arbuckle inherits a potential Ferrari at the QB position in Cameron Ward, who was prolific at the FCS level two years ago. Last season, he disappointed CFF managers hoping for the reincarnation of Bailey Zappe. However, in year two, there could be a big jump. Conveniently, since many were burned on Ward last year, the price to acquire him should be more reasonable this summer.
Coaching & System
WSU head coach Jake Dickert took over from Nick Rolovich in 2021. With a background in coaching on the defensive side of the ball, I won't spend much time going through his history.
The latest addition to the Cougs' staff is OC Ben Arbuckle. Arbuckle was formerly the co-OC and QBs coach at WKU in 2022 and the offensive quality control coach in 2021. He served in the same role with Kittley at HBU in 2018 and 2019.
His QB1 last season — Austin Reed, threw for 40 TDs and over 4700 yards, while rushing 91 times for 224 yards and 8 TDs (31.8 FPG). I don’t know about you, but I was actually very surprised at the rushing usage for Reed. Like Ward, he is not really what I think of in terms of dual-threat QBs, but from a CFF standpoint, the rushing usage is extremely encouraging.
In 2021, everyone knows what WKU’s Bailey Zappe did, which was nothing short of a CFF miracle. Arbuckle also had Zappe in 2018 and 2019 at HBU, where he put up some strong numbers: over 3800 yards and 35 TDs passing in 2019, over 2800 yards and 23 TDs passing in 2018.
Arbuckle’s been around some extremely QB-friendly systems in his short time as a coach, and I’m hoping that he will apply a lot of what he learned at WSU this year.
The early signs on this offence are encouraging, here is an excerpt from a local beat report on WSU’s offence in the spring game:
This was Ben Arbuckle’s, the new offensive coordinator’s, first “game” with the team. It was a massive success for him and the new Cougars offense. The team was able to be successful on middle passes, explosive plays and even had success rushing the ball.
At the forefront of the offence is QB Cameron Ward, and his new OC Pale Nimbus might be just what the doctor ordered for him in 2023.
QB Cameron Ward - 6’2, 215
Ward is entering his fourth year of CFB — his second with WSU, prior to that he began his career at the FCS program Incarnate Word (IW), before transferring in the 2022 offseason. In his first season with the Cougs, Ward passed for over 3200 yards and 23 TDs to 9 INTs, he also rushed for 58 yards and 5 TDs on 107 attempts (20.7 FPG).
In his final season with IW, Ward completed 384-of-590 (65.1%) passes for 4648 yards with 47 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in 13 games.
We know that he can sling it, and now in year two, Ward might be able to cash in on the expectations levied upon him last offseason. He had yet another phenomenal spring, and there are plenty of weapons around him at his disposal.
As a refresher, here are the highlights of Ward during last year’s spring game:
According to Ward himself, he has improved ‘tremendously’ this spring.
Ward has a lot of weapons at his disposal
The Cougers brought in two big-name WRs this offseason from the portal: UNLV’s Kyle Williams and Fresno State’s Josh Kelly. Williams averaged 14.14 FPG in 1-ppr leagues in 2022, Kelly averaged 5.45 FPG.
They also have their RB1, Nakia Watson, returning in the backfield. However, the star of the show is apparently JuCo transfer DT Sheffield at WR. Sheffield attended Northwest Mississippi CC between 2020 and 2022. In his final year of JuCo, he appeared in 12 games, caught 58 passes for 776 yards, and scored 11 touchdowns.
When asked about WSU’s playmakers earlier this spring, Dickert had this to say:
I think DT Sheffield has been a really bright spot in our offense . . . who is going to pick up that slack in the slot — he's done a good job making some big, explosive plays. And today, we finally see him do some things with the ball in his hands and making people miss.
DT, Carlos, Josh Kelly is another one that has brought a lot of consistency to our wide receiver play . . . and Josh can take it down the field, but his intermediate route running, his power game, his possession game; we're going to need him a lot in the red zone.
Sheffield caught three passes for 121 yards and a touchdown in the spring game; Josh Kelly had three grabs for 82 yards.
Something to note is that we’ve seen in the past that the slot receiver of the WKU offences usually has extremely productive seasons; DT Sheffield (5’10, 170) could be in for a big year in 2023 as it sounds like he could be operating from the slot.
Despite appearing to be in for a big season last year, Ward largely disappointed in CFF. He did not perform to the level that you’d expect given where he was typically drafted in CFF drafts, so I am taking the spring hype with a grain of salt. That being said, his price has dropped considerably this offseason compared to last — to the point that he is probably worth the risk now.
We have yet to see the architects of that infamous 2021 WKU offence recreate that success elsewhere. In particular, Kittley has yet to recreate the success at Texas Tech so far. We’ll see if Arbuckle can reignite the magic in Pullman for 2023.
While you’re here, I’m curious about your opinion…
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