#33 Washington State Football 2016 Preview

Washington State Cougars
Overall Rank: #33
#6 Pac-12
Washington State opened last season with a shocking 24-17 loss to Portland State. After that, this was a very different Cougars squad. Washington State was able to go 6-3 in Pac-12 play, which included road wins over Oregon and UCLA. A trip to the Sun Bowl against Miami (FL) resulted in the program’s first bowl victory since 2003 when WSU upset Texas in the Holiday Bowl. With the nation’s most potent passing attack returning most of their pieces, this is a Cougars squad that has ambitious Rose Bowl dreams.
2015 Record: 9-4, 6-3
2015 Bowl: Sun Bowl vs. Miami (W 20-14)
Coach: Mike Leach (21-29 at Washington State, 105-72 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Leach
Defensive Coordinator: Alex Grinch
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Gerard Wicks, RB, 610 yards
Passing: Luke Falk, QB, 4,561 yards
Receiving: Gabe Marks, WR, 1,192 yards
Tackles: Peyton Pelluer, LB, 101
Sacks: Hercules Mata’afa, DE, 7.0
Interceptions: Shalom Luani, S, 4
Other Key Returnees: RB Jamal Morrow, WR River Cracraft, WR Robert Lewis, LB Parker Henry, CB Darrien Molton, CB Marcellus Pippins
Key Losses: WR Dom Williams, OL Joe Dahl, LB Jeremiah Allison, DE Darryl Paulo, DE Destiny Vaeao, S Taylor Taliulu, LB Ivan McLennan
Quarterback Luke Falk threw for 4,561 yards and 38 touchdowns during his sophomore season. He also completed an impressive 69.4 percent of his attempts and was intercepted a mere eight times. Eight interceptions is not a bad number for somebody who attempted 644 passes. The return of receiver Gabe Marks is a huge deal. He could have left for the NFL, but is back in Pullman after catching 104 passes for 1,192 yards and 15 touchdowns. Look for River Cracraft and Robert Lewis to have big years as well, but they could both be overshadowed by sophomore speedster Tavares Martin. Regardless, Falk has plenty of very talented receiving options. The ground game does not do much for Coach Mike Leach, but Gerard Wicks is back after rushing for a team high 610 yards and three touchdowns.
The Washington State defense made huge strides last season. They allowed just 27.7 points per game a year after giving up 38.6 per game. The expectations are growing that Alex Grinch’s group will be even better in his second year as defensive coordinator. Getting consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback could be an issue this year with Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao gone. Sophomore Hercules Mata’afa will step into one end spot after tallying 7.0 sacks last season and the middle of the line is in good shape with Robert Barber returning to his starting position. Junior college transfer Garrett McBroom could step into the starting tackle spot and will at least provide another big body to rotate along the line. Peyton Pelluer will be the leader of the linebackers. He recorded a team high 101 tackles in 2015. The biggest surprise on defense last season was the secondary, which ranked third in the Pac-12 in pass defense. The unit also forced their fair share of turnovers. Shalom Luano had a great season at free safety, tallying 90 tackles and four interceptions. There is a big hole at strong safety, but Darrien Molton and Marcellus Pippins are good, young cornerbacks who are only getting better.
The Bottom Line:
If the defense keeps improving, this could be a very, very special season for Washington State. It is also possible that those close wins will turn into close losses if the ball does not bounce Washington State’s way in 2016. We will not have to wait too long to find out how the Cougars season is going to go. They start Pac-12 play against Oregon, followed by a trip to Stanford and then back home against UCLA. Those are three huge games and if WSU can win two of them, they could cruise through the rest of the Pac-12 slate and set up one of the biggest Apple Cups in recent memory.
Projected Bowl: Las Vegas Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 80.1 (127th in nation, 12th in conference)
Passing Offense: 389.5 (1, 1)
Total Offense: 469.6 (25, 5)
Scoring Offense: 31.5 (49, 8)
Rushing Defense: 192.5 (92, 7)
Pass Defense: 223.8 (64, 3)
Total Defense: 416.2 (84, 6)
Scoring Defense: 27.7 (74, 7)
Turnover Margin: -0.08 (75, 10)
Sacks: 2.54 (30, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 3.15 (116, 11)


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