Washington State is the next team we’ll break down in our “Makeup of the Pac-12 North” series. The Cougars are a team that has established what they are in year four of the Mike Leach era. They are going to score a bunch and hope you cannot catch them. Below I prognosticate whether this strategy will work for them in 2015.
Who it lost:
Gone is strong armed record-setting quarterback Connor Halliday, as well as the two most productive receivers in the conference last year in Isiah Myers and Biletnikoff Award semifinalist Vince Mayle. Defensively the Cougars lose their best defensive lineman Xavier Cooper, as well as nose guard Kalafitoni Pole who was a two-year starter. More importantly, the worst defense in the conference last year also has to replace their best tackler in the secondary after dismissing Daquawn Brown from the team.
Who it returns:
While there are a lot of returners this year, the biggest area for hope is on the offensive line. They return all five starters on a decent offensive line. Also coming back are their second and third leading tacklers at linebacker Jeremiah Allison and Peyton Pelluer. Most importantly is the return of receiver Gabe Marks from redshirting last year. Marks will be an important piece for an offense that will be more quick strike than bomb friendly behind new QB Luke Falk.
Again, their strength will be the offensive line. While everyone focuses on the passing game, the line will the key for WSU. While the arrival of Alex Grinch and his ball hawking defensive schemes might mean a stiffer defense for the Cougars, the loss of Connor Haliday and his ability to go deep at any moment is going to change the look of the 2015 Air Raid offense. In addition, the graduation of a bevy of deep threat receivers to spread the field means there a new look the Cougar offense. This was seen by them working on taking some snaps under center this spring. Falk, the heir apparent at QB is quicker of foot and more willing to run than Connor was, but the other side of it is that Falk is a short pass specialist. Extremely accurate dink and dunk passing will be his hallmark, so the line is going to be required to stand up to more blitzing and pressure as teams try to disrupt his rhythm.
Their defense. I know that Coach Alex Grinch comes pretty highly praised by some respectable people in Missouri, but let’s be honest, last year’s defense was a dumpster fire. This year in a weak northern division, they may pull out a few upsets (and will probably win the Apple Cup) but there is enough offensive fire power in their nine conference games to light up a defense that is going to have to get some very talented freshmen going sooner rather than later. In two years, this article will be vastly different as I think they have the talent to make a move on defense, but for now, it will rough. Especially if their offense has any drop off. 3 and outs in a fast strike offense is MURDER on defensive production.
Way Too Early Prognostication:
I really think WSU will be better than last year. I think Grinch will get the secondary better than their second to last in the conference ranking last year, even though their pass rush will still be suspect. I also think that their offense will be efficient and there won’t be a huge drop off from last year. The system is the master in this case, and that is still strong. They may not win games like their 2014 Utah game by going deep a lot late, but I think they will win some games they shouldn’t on paper. (Just hopefully not on October 15). That being said they still will probably be in the bottom half of the North and the bottom five of the conference.