The lack of a pass rush. It's a new year and the past doesn't equal the future. But 2013 was downright disappointing when it came to the Cougs generating a pass rush. WSU's sack total fell to 21 after posting 35 the year before. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske very much wants to attack, attack, attack but the Cougs were not a blitz-heavy team in 2013. The million dollar question is will he feel differently enough about his personnel in '14 to send more Cougs crashing into the line this season? The other meaty part of the equation is will Joe Salave'a ‘s defensive line get upfield more and take the QB out of his comfort zone, or will they get stood up at the same rate they did in '13? The pocket enjoyed by opposing QBs was far too solid, far too often and Salave'a simply has to get better results from shi starting front -- especially when the Cougs don't blitz.
Hard for Cougs to protect a lead. Washington State's Air Raid is built for the comeback, and to move the ball. They're not built to run out the clock, at least they haven't shown so yet. And the lack of a run game, as well as a willingness to run the ball, is seen as the biggest reason why. Mike Leach has shown during his time in Pullman he's not going to manage the clock the traditional way other coaches do – when he succeeds fans and media will call him a genius, when it fails they're going to rip him. Leach is also going to go for it on more fourth down than the average coach is willing to risk. Add in what has been a bend-don't-break type of defense late in games and it's all added up to a lot of nailbiting for WSU fans. The Arizona win last season was an example of when it all works out okay. But the fact media and fans will be talking far more about the bowl loss to CSU in the weeks and months to come speaks for itself.
No established kicker or punter. After all the analysis and discussion about the offense and defense, a win or loss quite often turns on special teams. The Cougs will go into this year having been unable to develop a kicker or punter worthy of being put on scholarship. WSU did go out and find a kicker to replace Andrew Furney in the 2014 recruiting class but Tristan Vizcaino bolted for the UW two weeks before signing day. If you're looking for a bright side, the Cougs' best kickers and punters have begun as walk ons, so maybe this season will be the start of something good. If you're a pessimist, you're worried 30-yard punts and long drives with nothing to show for it on the scoreboard will be common enough to have fans reaching for the Tums.
A lack of points for all those yards. Washington State set a program record for passing yards last season and checked in at fourth nationally (4,597). But the Cougs were just 53rd in the nation in points scored (31 ppg). Take out the 90 points the Cougs put up on the board against Southern Utah and Idaho and the lack of points for all those yards really becomes an eyesore. The conventional view has been that the Cougs struggle the closer they get to the goal line because they don't have a running game to slog out the tough yards. Whether you agree with that or not, the Cougs have to find ways to punch the ball into the end zone much more often if they're going to take that next step in 2014. The good news? It's fixable. In the blowout win over Idaho, the leading ballcarrier had six carries and the running backs had just 15 run touches total. Against Stanford, Oregon and ASU, Cougar running backs in each contest combined for less than 10 carries a game. You can't run if you don't try. The question is if Leach will, at least a little more, try.
A young secondary. The Cougs go into spring ball with a ton of questions at corner and safety and gone is All-America safety Deone Bucannon. At corner, Wazzu needs a big spring and fall camp from Daquawn Brown, who showed lots of potential and also youthful mistakes in 2013 as a true freshman. Charleston White and Marcellus Pippins both need to grow up fast. Unless just about everything goes WSU's way, it's likely the corner competition will truly begin in fall camp after the new recruiting class arrives -- so yeah, not exactly a lot of experienced depth there. Over at safety WSU has potential but again, playing time on Saturdays is lacking. Taylor Taliulu needs to stay healthy, and find the consistency that has eluded him his first two years in the program. Isaac Dotson with only a year under his belt as a reserve now needs to show he's a legit Pac-12 starting candidate. Darius Lemora coming off a redshirt season needs to show he's not just a head-turner in practice, but in games. A lot of things need to go right here, and Cougar fans may need to set realistic expectations for the defensive backfield headed into 2014.