Improving WSU pass rush there for the taking

THE COUGAR PASS RUSH. You can go as complex as you like when it comes to all the variety and machinations that come with the Cougar defensive front. But there is nothing complicated about the need for more pressure, nor how Washington State can go about that, in 2014.

Pad level.

It's not complicated and you don't have to be a football guru to have spotted it. In the New Mexico Bowl alone, viewers on too many occasions saw the Cougar d-line stand up as they engaged.

They weren't low enough, their hand-fighting skills suffered because of it and they lost the battle for leverage before it began.

But it wasn't always like that in 2013. Washington State d-line coach Joe Salave'a has by any measure done a solid job his first two seasons on the Palouse, and he's been busy coaching up what has been a rather youthful and inexperienced group. With the core of that group now possessing some seasoning heading into '14, good things up front should be in the offing.

THERE WERE TIMES, particularly in the first half of this past season, where Washington State's d-line pushed into the backfield, significantly disrupting both the run and the pass.

They allowed their teammates to make the big play, or even made the play themselves -- and they did it when they were playing lower and with sound fundamentals, with more leverage than their opponent.

Washington State's base is a 3-4 but like any team, WSU often sends four when they don't blitz. Well, the Cougs need to get there more often next season with four. They had 21 sacks this season in 13 games, ranking 91st out of 123 FBS teams. There was also a lack of hurries.

Opposing quarterbacks like Colorado State's were far too comfortable in the pocket and enjoyed far too much time. WSU needs more sacks in '14 but they don't have to suddenly notch an impossibly high number to affect significant change.

The more often a quarterback gets hit, the more his eyes come down. With effective pressure, he starts to feel the rush before it's actually necessary to react. It only takes a split second, but in that beat a world of change occurs. There's a domino effect, one that eventually ends in sending the punter out.

WASHINGTON STATE WILL lose nose tackle Ioane Gauta to graduation and he'll leave behind bigger shoes than casual WSU fans realize. But WSU moved Toni Pole, Xavier Cooper and Gauta around on the line -- Pole's lining up at the nose was not an uncommon sight in the bowl game and during the season. WSU has versatility going for them in replacing a guy like Gauta.

And the winter offseason and spring ball will be crucial to finding out who among a large group is ready to take that next step when it comes to the defensive front and pass rush. That list includes names like Robert Barber, Darryl Paulo, Daniel Ekuale and Emmitt Su'a-Kalio and BUCK Ivan McLennan.

Mike Leach mentioned both Ekuale and McLennan in particular during early bowl practices as two who had stood out.

THE PREVAILING OPINION this season was that the Couar cornerbacks (and safeties) needed to do a better job in coverage. That's not incorrect but it's not entirely accurate either.

In the bowl game, the CSU quarterback had plenty of time, but also plenty of trouble finding open receivers on multiple occasions. And not even an All-America corner can cover when a quarterback has all day to throw.

Against Oregon, there was a stretch where Xavier Cooper and crew took over the game. It was brief, but it was there. They got to Duck QB Marcus Mariotta. They forced fumbles in the backfield. And proper pad level, again, was key to it.

The Cougs showed they can get a pass rush going this past season, but only on occasion. Now they need to show they can do it with regularity in '14.

And maybe the key piece to that rests with the BUCK, with Kache Palacio and Destiny Vaeao offering glimpses in '13 (particularly Palacio) that 2014 is the year they step into the limelight.

As long as they and the rest of the Cougar defensive front in 2014 employ proper pad level, there's no reason they can't get it done.

Cougfan Top Stories