Phil Steele tells CF.C: Key on the Coug corners when it comes to the 2016 Washington State defense

FOR WASHINGTON STATE to build on last year’s defensive improvement, the Cougs will have to effectively replace the starters up front lost to graduation. But in a CF.C conversation with Phil Steele, writer of the most accurate preseason magazine over the last 18 years, he pointed to a different position as the key to the Cougar D in 2016.

Steele is a fan of Cougar cornerbacks Marcellus Pippins and Darrien Molton (pictured above, L-R) who started 11 and 10 games this past season, respectively. 

“I think as long as the two cornerbacks stay healthy this year – if you have a nice pair of shutdown cornerbacks like Washington State does, that allows you to concentrate more with the safeties in the box, they don’t have to be as much in coverage,” said Steele. “And you can generate more pressure on the quarterback.

“I’m going to say Washington State is not going to make the same type of improvement they did last year, which was 11 points better (scoring defense) -- but that they will be better than last year’s defense.”

Steele employs a ton of metrics and stats in compiling his predictions and previews in the magazine, this year’s edition checks in at a healthy 352 pages.

“One of my favorite stats is yards per game in conference play vs. the record of the team. Sometimes if a team is plus-yards per game in conference but has a losing record, I think they’re undervalued. The flip side is there are teams that have winning records in conference play but yet minus-yards per game. That’s always been one of my favorites,” said Steele.

A quick checks shows Washington State, 6-3 in conference play last year, checked in with a plus-0.1 yards per play in conference games (6.0 offense, 5.9 defense).  Elsewhere in the Pac-12,  Cal and Washington both went 4-5 in conference play with a plus-0.5 ypp in conference.  USC (6-3 in conference play) had a minus-0.1.

We’ll have more from our conversation with Phil Steele on Monday.

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