2015 Washington State Cougars Football Preview
Head Coach: Mike Leach (4th year at WSU: 12-25 overall, 7-20 Pac-12; 18th overall: 96-68)
2014 Record: 3-9
Bowl Result: None (Last: 2013 Gildan New Mexico Bowl: Colorado State, L 48-45)
This fall will mark the fourth year of the Mike Leach Era in Pullman and thus far the results have certainly not been what the “the Pirate fanatic” coach or Cougar fans had hoped they’d be.
After a 3-9 campaign in his debut season at Wazzu in 2012, Leach led the Cougars to a 6-6 finish and berth in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl the following year.
However, Washington State was unable to build on that success last year as starting quarterback Connor Halliday suffered a career-ending leg injury, the defense struggled and the Cougars had absolutely no running game—even by “Air Raid” offense standards. Consequently, they saw their record return to 3-9.
Leach’s air raid attack yielded 31.8 points, 517.5 yards per game, and led the nation in passing offense with 477.7 yards. However, the running game was the nation’s worst as the Cougars churned out a dismal 39.8 yards per contest.
While the Cougars certainly hated to lose their veteran signal-caller in Halliday, it did present an opportunity for freshman Luke Falk to get thrown into the fire and get some experience before taking over the reins this season.
Falk, who appeared in six games and started the last three, threw for 1,859 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was picked off seven times.
The Cougars do return proven commodities in River Cracraft (66-771-8 TD), Dom Williams (43-656-9 TD) and Robert Lewis (41-370-2 TD) so the cupboard is far from bare.
Additionally, Wazzu welcomes back sophomore running backs Jamal Morrow (87 att-351 yds) and Gerard Wicks (62 att-234 yds). While the duo combine to rush for less than 600 yards, they caught a combined 77 passes totaling more than 500 yards. Morrow had 61 of those.
Defensively, the Cougars surrendered nearly 40 points per game (38.6) and forced just eight turnovers (three interceptions and five fumbles) all season.
The poor performance resulted in Mike Leach cutting loose defensive coordinator Mike Breske and linebackers coach Paul Volero.
Grinch, who spent the last three years coaching the Tigers’ safeties, spent three years as the secondary coach at Wyoming prior to going to Mizzou. Prior to his stint in Laramie with the Cowboys, he coached under Chip Kelly at New Hampshire. Kelly, who is now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, felt Grinch is one of the best teachers he has ever been around.
It remains to be seen exactly what scheme the Cougars’ DC will employ, but don’t be surprised if incorporates many odd fronts and features WSU bringing pressure on a pretty consistent basis.
The unit lost key contributors such as leading tackler Daquawn Brown (82 tackles) and Xavier Cooper (9.5 TFL and 5 sacks).
The linebacker and safety positions have the opportunity to be strengths as the players who will likely man those spots have played quite a bit of football.
Senior linebacker Jeremiah Allison was second on the team in tackles with 78 stops a season ago. He recorded 8.5 tackles behind the line—including 3.5 sacks.
Fellow seniors Kache Palacio (57 tackles, 9.0 TFL, 6.5 sacks) and Ivan McLennan (5.5 TFL, 4.5 sacks), as well as sophomore Peyton Pelluer (39 tackles, 5.5 TFL) are other linebackers that may play a lot of snaps.
Safeties Darius Lemora (68 tackles) and Taylor Taliulu (66 tackles) ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in tackles in 2014.
The schedule may be more challenging than a year ago because Oregon, Arizona and UCLA are among the Cougars’ five PAC-12 road trips. WSU, which went just 1-6 at home with that win coming against FCS foe Portland State, needs to do a better job of taking care of business at Martin Stadium. Oregon State, Stanford, ASU and Colorado come to Pullman. Non-conference play features Portland State and Wyoming at home while a return trip for last year’s game will be made to Rutgers.
The offense should produce about 30 points per game, but will the Cougars be able to slow down the opposition enough? Will Wazzu do a better job of protecting and taking away the football than they did last season when they concluded the year minus 17 in turnover margin?
If there are solutions found in those areas, Leach and company should top last year’s win total and if they can steal a couple of wins on the road may be able to muster a 6-6 mark and bowl trip.
By Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum
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