WSU EARLY LOOK: Week 1 vs. Rutgers

IN LESS THAN 100 days, the Cougars will open the season against Rutgers in Seattle. So what's going on with the Scarlett Knights post-spring? What kind of offense will new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen run and how quickly are the players adjusting to it? And how's the defense looking? Just what will the Cougs be facing on Aug. 28?

If the spring was any indication, in reading over some of the beat writers who cover Rutgers, it feels like many will be pinning their hopes for the offense on Friedgen working some serious magic in his first year.

That kind of thing can be done, a new coordinator or head coach can produce a bounce that has players performing well above what was forecast -- but it's rare. More often seen is an acclimation period measured that takes at least a season, and the talent level, through recruiting, needs to also go up and/or become a better fit. And one of the biggest problems for the Rutgers offense is there have been six offensive coordinators since 2008.

Friedgen will employ a pro-style offense. At its most basic, the run game will feature a lot of counter plays, with short passes to the flats and soft spots found in the middle zones. Rutgers will throw deep just enough to try and keep defenses off balance.

But the top two running backs missed most of the spring with injuries. QB Gary Nova is about as sure a thing to continue under center but the problem is he's looked great one play, bad the next. And that's been true for both his Rutgers career and this spring. When, on, he's on. When not, he's telegraphing passes and making poor decisions. And he's head and shoulders above his competition.

All five starters on the o-line return from last season return, so improvement is expected. But how much improvement will be seen from a unit that ranked 102nd nationally in sacks allowed and 100th in rushing yards per game? Right now, Rutgers does not have what head man Kyle Flood says he needs up front -- he does not have eight reliable offensive linemen. And some would argue he's not all that close to the number.

There were flashes from receivers Carlton Agudosi and Janarion Grant this spring, particularly Grant. But tight end Tyler Kroft missed time to injury and it would be a stretch coming out of the spring to say the Rutgers' receivers look like they're ready to be an elite group on Saturdays.

OVER ON DEFENSE, Rutgers' front seven was pretty salty in the spring game.

Their best defensive lineman, junior DT Darius Hamilton, has excellent technique and has become a leader. He dominated much of the spring against his o-line counterparts. But he has a significant size disadvantage at around just 270-pounds.

Some beat writers think his technique and quickness is so good, he'll overcome that size disadvantage and turn in a heckuva year. But a Cougar o-lineman, with proper technique and pad level and heft, should have something to say about that.

Defensive end Kemoko Turay is a sack specialist. But he's also 6-6, 220-pounds. Indeed, the entire d-line is small by Pac-12 or Big Ten standards.

The linebackers switched up positions a little bit this spring and it looked like the right move, with their skill sets better matched. There's some depth too, with players like redshirt freshman linebacker T.J. Taylor.

But the secondary has questions. The corners looked to be improved from a rough 2013 season but they're far from air tight. Rutgers has their corners playing more aggressive and when it works, it's just the right tonic. But a veteran QB like Connor Halliday, and a deep, talented squad of wideouts, could well use that aggressiveness against them.

THERE'S A LONG way to go between now and Aug. 28 -- a lot will happen during the summer workouts and fall camp.

But in the here and now, given the lengthy injury list Rutgers dealt with the spring, with players adjusting to new coaches, new schemes and nuances they have yet get down pat, with WSU looking like they're on an upswing heading into Mike Leach's third season, it's hard not to like the Cougs' chances in the season opener.

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