Washington State kicks off the 2017 season vs. Montana State on Sept. 2, but fans can catch a glimpse of the Beavers next week at Pac-12 Media Days.
Mike Leach and his pirate-loving ways will take the stage Thursday, July 27, as he looks to build on the impressive turnaround he’s authored in Pullman. He’ll be joined in Hollywood by RB Jamal Morrow and LB Peyton Pelluer.
Is Cody O’Connell the best player you’ve never heard of?
He was a unanimous All-America selection last season, but nobody outside of Pullman probably knows much about junior guard Cody O’Connell. Oh, the life of a college football lineman. But he’s arguably the best player on the Washington State team and could be one of the first guards taken in the 2018 NFL Draft.
O-linemen never get headlines, but we wanted to give O’Connell his due. We see you, Cody. Honestly, how could you not see him at 6-foot-9, 370 pounds? Keep doing your thing protecting Luke Falk.
Can the Cougars take the next step?
Mike Leach has done a very good job in his five seasons in Pullman. In the four prior to his arrival (2008-11, aka the Paul Wulff Disaster Tour), the Cougars won a grand total of 9 conference games. Last season, Leach led them to 7 conference wins, and is 20-25 overall in the Pac-12. So the program definitely has risen out of the cellar.
But 7, 8 wins and a bowl game also seem to be about the ceiling for this team. The Cougars always are high-scoring, but until they make a concerted effort to get better on defense they’ll always be on the outside looking in when it comes to true title contention.
Get used to running back by committee again
Last season, the Cougars used a three-prong attack at running back. Freshman James Williams and juniors Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks combined for 96 percent of the team’s rushing attempts, 97 percent of the rushing yards and 96 percent of the rushing TDs. And that trio was compact when it came to production. Wicks’ 11 TDs led the way, but Williams got the most carries and yards. Morrow had the highest yards-per-attempt with 6.4.
All three are back this season and are expected to again split carries. Trying to determine if one could break out and become a true lead back seems like a fool’s errand. They are all equally effective.
The defense is behind the offense, but it’s not bad
The Cougars ranked 37th in the nation in scoring defense (24.8), 47th in total yards allowed per game (389.6), and tied for 27th in turnover margin (plus 0.5). There aren’t a lot of notable names, but it’s a solid unit led by speedy defensive end Hercules Mata’afa, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection. There is youth in the secondary, but the linebacker corps is anchored by seniors Dylan Hanser, Frankie Luvu and Peyton Pelluer. It’s a bend-but-don’t-break defense in a league where not breaking often leads to wins.
Luke Falk’s assault on the record books
Falk sits at No. 8 on the Pac-12 all-time passing yardage list with 10,888. He’s only 2,700 yards from passing Oregon State’s Sean Mannion (2011-14), the conference’s current leader. Similarly, he’s 141 completions behind Mannion for the all-time mark in that category, and 27 passing TDs behind Southern California’s Matt Barkley (2009-12). If he stays healthy, he likely will blow past each one of those records and take his place as one of the Pac-12’s best-ever signal callers.