Oct 31, 2013; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday (12) throws a pass against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Analyzing The Pac-12 Football Teams: Washington State Cougars

In our last piece on the the Pac-12 football teams of the North Division, we look at the Washington State Cougars. There is a feeling up in the Palouse that things are changing under third-year head coach Mike Leach and that the losing days of Cougar football are in the past. And you know what, that feeling is legitimate. Last year, the Cougars posted a 6-7 record, the most wins in a season since 2006. It was also the first time they went to a bowl game since 2003, which they unfortunately lost 48-45 against Colorado State in a game they were leading to start the fourth quarter. Rome was not built in a day.

With his Air-Raid Offense, Leach looks to fly past the Pac-12 with all-out aerial assault, which seems very possible behind the production of quarterback Connor Halliday. The WSU gunslinger had the second most yards in the Pac-12, but on the down side, also boasted a conference worst 22 interceptions. With that experience, expect Leach and Halliday to tighten the screws on an offense that had the Pac-12 on their heels all season long. So can the Cougars improve on last season and break into the top half of the conference? That is yet to be seen.

 

Key Losses

Dec 21, 2013; Albuquerque, NM, USA; Washington State Cougars safety Deone Bucannon (20) returns an interception in the second quarter against the Colorado State Rams during the Gildan New Mexico Bowl at University Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

CB Deone Bucannon

  • All-Pac-12 1st Team Defense
  • In 2013, 114 Total Tackles (1st in Pac-12), 79 Solo Tackles (2nd in Pac-12)
  • 6 Interceptions in 2013 (four-way tie for 1st in Pac-12)

C Elliott Bosch

  • Two time All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention
  • 25 starts to finish career, 33 total
  • 2013 Washington State Offensive MVP

CB Damante Horton

  • Two time All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention
  • 39 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 5 interceptions, 3 touchdowns in 2013

 

Key Returners

QB Connor Halliday

  • 4597 total passing yards in 2013 (2nd in Pac-12, 3rd in NCAA)
  • 353.6 passing yds per game in 2013 (2nd in Pac-12, 3rd in NCAA)
  • 34 passing TDs in 2013 (2nd in Pac-12, 7th in NCAA))

WR Gabe Marks

  • 807 receiving yards in 2013 (7th in Pac-12)
  • 62.1 receiving yards per game in 2013 (5th in Pac-12)

WR Vince Mayle

  • 539 yards in 2013 (4th on the team)
  • 12. yards per reception in 2013 (5th on the team)
  • 7 touchdowns in 2013 (tied for 1st on the team with two others)

 

Coach Review: Mike Leach

Jul 23, 2014; Hollywood, CA, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach talks to the media during the Pac-12 Media Day at the Studios at Paramount. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Leach is a Pirate. Metaphorically speaking. He was given that name years ago because of his approach to football… pillage the competition and take the loot in the form of wins. Though Leach had a 84-43 record at his last post at Texas Tech, things are not necessarily playing out that way at WSU. He knew when he was taking the job that the Palouse is not a key location. Nevertheless, Leach has improved the overall character of this team to one that takes no prisoners and is going all out on the offensive. Leach has the Cougars tasting success and at the very least making some waves in the process.

One example of that was last season when WSU played Oregon. The Cougars knew the game was not going in their favor and eventually ended in a 62-38 Oregon victory. Leach did not care as he kept his 1st stringers in the game and played until the clock hit 00:00. Not many in Oregon’s camp took kindly to that. Former Duck defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti called Leach “low class” for passing late in a clear Oregon victory. There might have also been some tension in Aliotti’s words knowing that Leach and QB Connor Halliday tallied 89 passing attempts (a FBS record), 559 passing yards and 4 touchdowns on then #2 Oregon.

Aliotti later apologized. Leach did not bat an eye as he proved that he will not be pushed around the way others want him and the Cougars to do. That is Leach. He is dangerous and posse cannon. If a team slips up against him, the Pirate will pounce with his Cougars.

Still, it will take time to make Washington State a threatening team in the Pac-12, but Leach has what it takes to do that. Maybe not this year, but soon.

 

2014 Schedule

Thu, Aug 28 vs. Rutgers at CenturyLink Field (Fox Sports 1)

Fri, Sep 5 at Nevada (ESPN)

Sat, Sep 13 vs Portland State (Pac-12 Networks)

Sat, Sep 20 vs Oregon

Sat, Sep 27 at Utah

Sat, Oct 4 vs Cal

Fri, Oct 10 at Stanford (ESPN)

Sat, Oct 25 vs Arizona

Sat, Nov 1 vs USC

Sat, Nov 8 at Oregon State

Sat, Nov 22 at Arizona State

Sat, Nov 29 vs Washington

 

2014 Season Outlook

Getting to a six-win season and a bowl game might be enough for the old mentality of Washington State football, but not now. Leach is doing extraordinary things with his Air-Raid Offense and if he can get the defense going as well, there is a chance the Cougars can crack the top three of the North Division. The only problem is that they have no defense and if we have learned anything in the Pac-12 (ex: Stanford), defense is needed to win championships.

WSU ranked tenth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, allowing 32.5 points a game and tenth in total defense, allowing 458.0 yards per game. It does look to get any better any time soon as their best position group, the defensive line, is middle-of-the-road in the Pac-12… at best. The linebacker and defensive backs are a notch down from that. If the defense does not improve, WSU will find themselves in a lot of shoot outs and that is exactly where they do not want to be when they go up against some very disciplined up-tempo teams in the Pac.

The other thing that makes Washington State vulnerable is the fact that they are a one-dimension offense. They only throw the ball. Last year, the Cougars were dead last in rushing in the conference averaging only 53.8 yards per game. Though the passing game is stellar, it will not get the Cougs a shot at the Pac-12 Championship. Unless Leach has something up his sleeve, WSU is bound for another spot at 5 or 6 in the North Division.

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