UW Opponent Preview - Washington State

With the start of the college football season a mere four days away, we're taking a look at each one of Washington's opponents and today we preview their in-state rival, Washington State, whom they play on the Friday after Thanksgiving...

2015 Record: 9-4 (6-3)

Head Coach: Mike Leach (21-29, fifth year)

Returning Starters: 8 Offense/6 Defense

Key Losses: OL Joe Dahl; LB Jeremiah Allison; WR Dom Williams; OL Jacob Seydel; DL Destiny Vaeao

Key Returners: QB Luke Falk; WR Gabe Marks; WR River Cracraft; OL Cole Madison; LB Peyton Pelluer; DL Hercules Mata'afa; S Shalom Luani

2015 Offense: 470 ypg (80 rush/390 pass); 31.5 ppg

2015 Defense: 417 ypg (194 rush/224 pass); 27.7 ppg

Offense: Mike Leach is what he is -- a pass-happy coach who disdains balance on offense for yards per play. Until this past season, that strategy had been laughable, at least as far as the Cougars were concerned, but with Luke Falk at the helm of the attack for most of the season and a very experienced group of offensive linemen, WSU was able to put together enough of a running game to at least keep defenses honest. Losing Joe Dahl, a First Team All-Pac 12 player, definitely will impact things up front, but with Cole Madison leading the way, they should be able to hold up well for the most part. Falk could have left early and many think he could wind up being a first round selection in next April's NFL Draft and he'll have his favorite target back, wideout Gabe Marks (104 receptions, 1,192 yards, 15 TDs), as well as three more big contributors at receiver including slot receiver River Cracraft. In the off chance Leach loses his place on his play sheet and accidentally calls a run, Washington State returns it's three top rushers -- Gerard Wicks (610 yards, 3 TDs), Jamal Morrow (353 yards) and Keith Harrington (244, 2) -- all of whom are solid receivers out of the backfield as well.

Defense: The defense took a huge jump in Alex Grinch's first season as the defensive coordinator last year, allowing 11 points less per game (38.6 to 27.7) each week. Middle Linebacker Peyton Pelluer led the team 101 tackles and 11 tackles-for-loss and he'll be flanked by Parker Henry who finished fourth with 71 tackles. Up front, Hercules Mata'afa is the name to watch. He's a great pass-rusher who finished tied for the team-lead with seven sacks last season and he's poised for double-digits in that category this season. The secondary features a hard-hitter in Shalom Luani, but corners Marcellus Pippins and Darrien Molton are two young corners who have really improved as well. 

The Bottom Line: Leach's teams will always put up big numbers offensively, especially through the air, but last season they still left a lot of points on the field, only averaging 31.5 points per game. If they can improve that number to 36 per game and drop their points allowed another two points down to 25 per game, this team could be a 10-game winner. The biggest key, like most teams, is keeping their quarterback (Falk) healthy. If they can do that, they should challenge for the Pac 12 North title. However, that's a big if and we saw what happened to the Cougs when Falk was lost to injury in the Apple Cup last season.

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