Mike Leach’s omission from this list is an absolute sham! He is the mad scientist, I mean come on! Anyway, I went with this video because there wasn’t that much I could think of to describe the Cougars. They’ve had a rough go the last few seasons, eleven to be exact, which is how many seasons it’s been since Washington State had a winning season. However, with a manageable schedule, a coach who knows how to get the most of his offense and a capable quarterback that first winning season in over a decade just might be within reach.
New starting quarterback Luke Falk should have a strong receiving corps ideally suited to Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense. Gabe Marks’ return to the playing field this season should be a huge help. The redshirt junior caught 74 passes for 820 receiving yards in 2013, but took a healthy redshirt last season after some off-field immaturity and diminishing play on the field led to him moving down the depth chart and into the coaches’ doghouse. River Cracraft and Dom Williams should also be solid weapons at receiver. Cracraft had 771 receiving yards last season and Williams went for just over 650 yards.
Luke Falk is also not your typical backup quarterback taking over for a departed starter. Falk started the last four games for the Cougars last season because of an injury to starter Connor Halliday. In that span, and two pass attempts early in the year against Portland State, Falk attempted 243 passes. He completed over 64% of those passes for 1,859 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. If Falk can protect the ball a little bit better, he has already shown the propensity to put up massive numbers and just might be the guy to get Washington State back above .500.
Continuity up front should also help Falk get settled in as the starter. Every offensive lineman from last year’s team, including the starters, returns for the Cougars. The left side of the line is particularly experienced with left tackle Joe Dahl and left guard Gunnar Eklund. Eklund and Dahl have a combined 57 career starts and should do a solid job protecting Falk’s blind side.
The running game has never been an emphasis of a Mike Leach offense, but even so the Cougars struggled to move the ball on the ground last season. Both running backs Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks combined for a mere 585 yards and four touchdowns. Wicks ran for all four of those touchdowns. The duo also averaged fewer than four yards per carry.
Will linebacker Jeremiah Allison was the second leading tackler for the Cougs last season, but should be the leader of the defense this season. Allison had 64.5 tackles, 8.5 for loss, and 3.5 sacks last season. With Washington State’s transition to a nickel base defense, as opposed to a 4-3 defense, Allison will only have one running mate at linebacker as opposed to two. Peyton Pelluer is one of only two other returning linebackers to play in every game last season. Pelluer is also undoubtedly the more experienced of the two (the other was Paris Taylor) after recording 29.5 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss.
With how quickly the Cougars move the ball, it should be fairly easy to see that the defense is expected to be on the field more frequently than most. That means extra stress on all members of the defense, but it will especially take its toll on the secondary. It’s good then that the defensive backfield only lost one primary contributor from last season’s team. Daquawn Brown was the team’s leading tacker, so he is a noteworthy departure nonetheless. Sophomore Charleston White does return to his starting role at cornerback though, and Isaac Dotson, Brown’s expected replacement, did see action in four games last season. Darius Lemora is the leading returning tackler in the secondary with 56.5 tackles, and should start at nickelback.
Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan should give the Cougars a decent pair of rush ends. They combined for 11 sacks last season. If they can continue that, or even increase it some, then it would be a huge help for the secondary and linebackers. The questions about this line heading into the season primarily concern stopping the run. The interior line is relatively inexperienced with Destiny Vaeao and Daniel Ekuale had fewer than 20 combined tackles last season, but it is encouraging that roughly a third of those tackles were behind the line of scrimmage.
There are enough pieces in place here that this team should improve, although how much is hard to say. Plenty of holes still exist, but there is optimism that the bright spots and returning production can produce enough to cover those holes. Unfortunately, I still think that this team is a year away from getting back to a bowl game. The schedule isn’t particularly remarkable, and all of the non-conference games, including a trip to Rutgers, are winnable. The biggest game on this team’s schedule will likely be the end of season trip to Seattle for the Apple Cup. For the first time in a few years, the Cougars might have a real opportunity to be better than their in-state rival and they’d love nothing more than an Apple Cup victory to show for it.