Athlon breaks down 2015 Cougs

ATHLON MAGAZINE’S preview of the 2015 Cougars will generate discussion. It contains a number of interesting nuggets, some of which tend to argue against one another.

On one hand, Athlon’s positional unit rankings slot the Cougar QBs 10th in the Pac-12, and the OL 11th in the league.

But later, they note Luke Falk could finish his college career owning all of WSU’s passing records and also state the Cougars will have one of the more experienced, and bigger, offensive lines in the country in 2015.

The bottom line, Athlon predicts, is that the Cougars will go 4-8 on the 2015 season, and 2-7 in the Pac-12 with a finish of fifth in the Pac-12 North. They don’t detail specific wins and losses.

A lack of consistency in the running game and on the o-line make for part of their 4-8 prediction, but the biggest reason why is found on defense.

Athlon notes WSU has ranked either ninth or 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense and defensive yards allowed per play each of the last three seasons and imply there won’t be a large improvement in 2015.

Among the WSU nuggets from Athlon:

  • Athlon pegs safety Isaac Dotson as the Cougs’ rising star, calling him a 218-pound thumper. “He brings a physical presence to WSU’s secondary while still having the speed to cover receivers deep,” says Athlon.

  • The three key returning Cougars: WR Gabe Marks, OT Joe Dahl, WR River Cracraft. They peg the biggest losses to be QB Connor Halliday, WR Vince Mayle and CB Daquawn Brown.

  • Five times last season WSU scored 31 or more points and lost.

  • Leach is probably tired of correcting the mistaken assumption that his running backs are an afterthought in the Air Raid. Leach, Athlon says, wants them to be the best athletes on the field and to touch the ball more than anyone else. (He also wants them to lead the conference in all-purpose yards). And that means short passes. It hasn't received much notice but Jamal Morrow caught 61 passes last year, second-most in the nation for a running back.

  • The Cougs do figure to run a little bit more than they did last season. Running backs coach Jim Mastro, Athlon says, convinced Leach that the running game would take off by having the QBs go under center occasionally and the Cougs worked on it in every practice this spring (though it was largely absent in the spring game). Leach has said the Cougs could go under center as much as 25 percent of the time this season. Still, Athlon says with Morriw, Gerard Wicks and Keith Harrington, runs will come at a premium.

  • The d-line health is critical, Athlon says, especially when it comes to Robert Barber (pictured above) and Ngalu Tapa. Because those two missed a good amount of spring, new DC Alex Grinch had to move walk on LB Reggie Coates to DE and take Devonte McClain from the o-line to field a two deep this spring, Athlon says.

  • With the Cougs moving to the nickel, that leaves only two true linebackers on the field. Athlon says Aaron Porter will challenge MIK Peyton Pelluer, Meanwhile, WIL Jeremiah Allison figures to be busy. Athlon says indications this spring were that Grinch plans on blitzing heavily from that spot.

  • The Cougs are more experienced in the defensive backfield but still young, Athlon notes. They seem highest on a pair of safeties: Dotson and Sulaiman Hameed.

  • WSU’s highest rated position group in the Pac-12 according to Athlon are the WRs/TEs, who rank seventh. The rest: QB - 10; RB - 12; OL - 11; DL - 12; LB - 9: DB – 10.

  • Athlon predicts junior college transfer C.J. Dimry (6-6) to see time in WSU’s goal-line packages.

  • WSU’s special teams nightmare got some ink, with Athlon noting it isn’t just confined to this past season when the Cougs gave up three punt returns and three kickoffs for scores. WSU is the only Pac-12 team without a kickoff or punt return for score in the last six years while giving up 20 return scores over that span, also a league worst.

  • WSU’s turnover margin fell minus-12 from the year before (minus-17 total in 2014). Athlon notes Interceptions make up about 21 percent of a team’s passes defensed but only accounted for 6.8 percent for Wazzu. Athlon’s advice: “Hold onto the ball!”

  • WSU was solid against the run last season, Athlon notes, with the Cougs ranked No. 25 in Football Outsiders’ rush defense statistic while making stops at or behind the line of scrimmage 22.7 percent of the time (22nd nationally).

  • Mayle was targeted 163 times last season, with only Amari Cooper (Alabama) and Justin Hardy (ECU) targeted more (and both played in more games).

    Opposing coaches size up WSU (anonymous):
  • “People are going to focus on their QB situation but I think that’s the least of their worries.”
  • “They bring back the entire offensive line and those guys were solid last year.”
  • “When you play like they do, you’re going to cause some havoc with your defense, and they just didn’t create a lot of turnovers last year.”
  • “They’re going to need some newcomers show up ready to play on defense.”

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