COMMENTARY: Sacks, pressure go up in 2014

THE COUGAR DEFENSE in 2014 needs to up their sack totals (considerably) and they need to get more consistent heat on the quarterback. In a recent CF.C talk with defensive coordinator Mike Breske, there's reason to believe that's going to happen because of what's going on in one specific area.

The defensive line.

"That's our strength right now, our d-line is our strength," Breske told in a recent interview.

And it represents a considerable turnaround from last season. The Cougs started off strong early up front but then tailed off. The Cougs logging just 21 sacks, down from 35 in Mike Leach's first season at the helm. Particularly in the back half of last season, WSU's pass rush got stood up early and often and opposing quarterbacks had time to throw.

But the 2014 Cougar D is shaping up to be an entirely different unit. First, there's depth, quality depth. Second, there looks to be a greater ability to move different guys around, creating uncertainty for offensive linemen.

"They're more interchangeable, which is a plus for our defense -- and without slip," said Breske. "And we've got a solid two-deep there."

The front-line starters are T Xavier Cooper, NT Toni Pole and E Destiny Vaeao – although as Breske noted, you might not always see them line up in those spots. Others who figure to get plenty of rotational turns include, Darryl Paulo, Daniel Ekuale, Robert Barber and Lyman Faoliu.

AS IMPORTANT, if not more so than sacks, is bringing pressure. Consistent heat on a quarterback takes a toll, more than if a team logs a few sacks but gives him all day on other plays. All three of the WSU starters (and others) who put their hand down are capable of getting there, especially Cooper. But the most sacks and pressures may come from elsewhere.

Coming out of spring at the BUCK, Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan are in a virtual dead heat. But the third string guy, solely in terms of getting to the QB, is one to watch.

"Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan had good springs, complement each other very well. And then Emmitt Su'a-Kalio to some degree really came on in the spring. He's another piece to the puzzle – he's probably our best pass rusher. How much he contributes, we'll see this fall," said Breske.

There is potentially another complementary piece there too – Jeremiah Allison. He's a versatile guy who can be easily plugged in at the MIK or WIL as needed. But that's not the only spot.

"In our nickel scheme, he plays the defensive end, which is kind of what his forte was at Dorsey High School," said Breske.

THE COUGS LOOK to be more capable this upcoming season of getting there with four. But to really dial things up and to truly put forth a top-notch pass rush, you need to blitz some. And the million dollar question is can the Cougs blitz and trust their corners.

It will vary with each opponent but at some point in fall camp, Breske and the coaches will make a determination of what they're capable of with both the safeties and the corners. That will in turn help determine what they then can do, generally, with the rest of the defense. Because if you're not as solid as you'd like to be in the defensive backfield…

"Then it limits what you can do up front," said Breske. "We've got to be sound on the back end. We've got to take advantage of their assets, not their liabilities and then game plan from there... We make sure they're in the right position and then ok, now what can we do at the linebacker position, what can we do on the d-line. That's the way we're going to approach it this fall."

Breske is also an optimist, not a pessimist, when it comes to the defensive backfield looking ahead to fall camp. And that's due to speed.

"In the spring game we were very basic (by design) but we played fast.. We'll see what we're best at, and then take advantage of that," said Breske.

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