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2017 Fierce 40 Previews: #31 Washington State

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 15, 2017

#31 Washington State Cougars

2016 Recap:
Washington State proved the 2015 turaround was no fluke even after losing their final three games and coming in at 8-5. The Cougars lost a hard fought and very low scoring Holiday Bowl 17-12 against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.


Coaching:
Mike Leach enters his sixth season at the helm and has turned the program around after his tenure at Texas Tech. Leach is known for his wide open offensive style and passing attack and the 2016 team was right on par ranking 3rd nationally in passing and 18th in scoring at a robust 38.2 PPG.


Offense

While most people will think only about the wide open passing attack led by pro prospect Luke Falk, it is the running game which could but the Cougars in position to make a run at a Pac 12 title. Leach always had a productive ground game at Texas Tech, one that could best be described as "efficient". The same can be said here with Gerald Wicks and Jamal Morrow. The Cougars found paydirt 22 times on the ground and registered nearly 1,700 yards with their top three running backs last year and Morrow and Wicks both have the ability to go for over 1,000 in this offensive scheme. It's also easier running behind a 365 pound guard like Washington State has in Cody O' Connell, a player who is a better offensive prospect in the 2018 Draft than Falk. Robert Lewis will be the top receiver as Washington State has no shortage of players who can turn small gains into big plays.
 

Best Draft Prospects: Cody O'Connell OG 3rd Round 2018.

                                       Luke Falk QB 3rd Round 2018.


Defense

 The defense for the Cougars is not where the team wants it to be but significant strides were made in 2016. The Cougars will never be near the top of the conference in stats since they are on the field so much with the quick strike offense but they are a sneaky good unit. Robert Taylor and Jalen Thompson will be among one of the better starting safety units in the conference and both have the ability to make the Pac 12 All Conference First Team by seasons end. The linebackers come at you in waves as Washington State has as many as seevn players that will see significant time as they rely on speed and misdirection to plug up running lanes and bringing pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Hercules Mata'afa not only has one of the best names in all of college football, his first step off the line is deadly. Mata'afa does not have blazing striaght line speed but his acceleration off the snap is right there with any defenders along the line in the nation. Mata'afa registered 5 sacks a season ago but his quarterback pressures and plays disrupted numbered in the dozens. Daniel Ekuale will be the starting nose tackle in the 3-4 front that Washington State employs and a leader up front.

Best Draft Prospects: Hercules Mata'afa DE 4th Round 2019.                

                                       Jalen Thompson S 3rd Round 2020.


Special Teams:

Special Teams was up and down for Washington State in 2016 but this area played a huge role in many of their games. Robert Taylor is one of the most dangerous return men not only in the PAc 12 but the country and he should be handling most of the punt and kickoff return duties. Erik Powell will also serve in a duel capacity and he was a large part of the up and down performance. Powell clearly tailed off last year after a fantastic 2015 campaign with a horrid start to the season. Powell never got back to his 2015 pace but he did prove to be a weapon.


Schedule:

Washington State will be playing the first five games of the season at home starting with Montana State and culminating with Pac 12 favorite USC coming to town. Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah and Washington will be the road tests for this season as Washington State will be a key player in what looks to be a wide open Pac 12 race.


Draft and Overall Outlook:

Washington State has more individual draft talent at this point then maybe any other time in their history. While the Cougars have improved so has in state rival Washington who made a BCS Playoff appearance just a season ago. The overall outlook is still positive and the Cougars have a team that can pull off a big upset or two. USC better be careful coming to town in late October and if they overlook the Cougars Washington State can make them pay.

 

DJ Boyer