Posted on August 22, 2022
Each preview consists of nine sections: Overview, Best-Case Scenario, Worst-Case Scenario, What Should Happen, What Must Happen, Greatest Strength, Biggest Concern, Deciding Factors, and Schedule Analysis.
Nothing is set in stone, however, as rosters and depth charts continue to evolve over the summer.
His command of the Cougs’ defense last season produced the fifth-most turnovers in College Football, securing 15 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries.
The 29 turnovers forced led the Pac-12 by a landslide, a full seven TO’s higher than Oregon, which helped Wazzu hold opponents to 24.2 points per game (fifth in the Pac-12).
The defensive prowess was particularly exemplified in the Red Zone, with the Cougars finishing the year No. 10 in the nation in Red Zone Defense.
But the defensive guru has passed the torch to new coordinator Brian Ward, who enters his first season in Pullman bolstered by one of the top quarterback transfers in the country.
Cameron Ward followed his former head coach Eric Morris from Incarnate Word to the Palouse to run their proven and explosive offensive system.
The “Coug Raid,” as it’s been dubbed, promises to share characteristics with the Air Raid, but will incorporate tight ends among other differences.
As a potential dark horse Heisman candidate, Ward holds the keys to WSU’s success in 2022.
Ward’s familiarity with the system combines with the threat of De’Zhaun Stribling to produce one of the top scoring offenses in the Pac-12, while true freshman running back Jaylen Jenkins has a breakout year.
On the other side of the ball, the defense once again forces plenty of turnovers.
Overcoming questions in the linebacking corps, the defensive backs take advantage of the pressure created by Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson up front.
Transfer safety Jordan Lee thrives under Dickert’s defensive principles and Armani Marsh proves why he is one of the top defensive players in the league.
At the same time, Derrick Langford Jr. increases his production in his senior year.
The stout defense and improved offense lead to pivotal road victories over Oregon State and Stanford, and a second-straight Apple Cup win over Washington.
Washington State may have posted eye-opening turnover and red zone numbers last year, but its defense struggled to stop the run.
Dickert’s scheme allowed 160.5 yards rushing per game, landing WSU 80th in the FBS in run defense.
Those are concerning numbers considering Wazzu lost the heart and soul of its defense in linebackers Jahad Woods and Justus Rogers.
The duo combined for an astounding 183 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and three interceptions.
Without the experienced LBs to command the defense, the unit gives up even more rushing yards while generating fewer turnovers.
But, the pain is most felt in the red zone.
After shutting opponents down within the 20-yard line last year, Washington State’s defense isn’t able to replicate that strength without its productive linebackers.
The result is a D that gives up more points per game and is unable to get off the field.
The defensive issues are compounded by an offensive line that’s hard to watch. Abraham Lucas commanded the unit last year, but the All-Conference talent moved on to the NFL and left a gaping hole in his wake.
Three starters from the unit must be replaced.
The group wasn’t that strong last year anyway, finishing 79th in sacks allowed per game and 108th in tackles for loss per night.
Without Lucas to lead the way, the O-Line doesn’t provide enough protection for Ward or his running backs to do damage.
The problems on both sides of the ball lead to an embarrassing four-win season.
What Should Happen
The transfer knows the system like the back of his hand and should operate it to near perfection.
Stribling is a deadly option in the passing game, who combines well with returning wideouts Lincoln Victor, Donovan Ollie, Renard Bell, and Oregon State transfer Zeriah Beason.
The passing game shouldn’t be a problem.
And in the backfield, true freshman Jenkins should secure the starting job from Week One and never look back.
Although the offensive line may remain a question mark for the year, Dickert’s defensive line should shine.
Stone Jr. and Jackson combined for 18 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 2021. The duo should take over the leadership roles on defense and lead by example.
On the second level, Nevada linebacker transfer Daiyan Henley should answer the immediate concerns of the group, while in the secondary Marsh, Lee, and Langford Jr. head the defensive backs.
The result of a powerful offense and consistent defense produces a 7-5 year with the Cougars winning the games they are supposed to win, but failing to secure any shocking upsets.
What Must Happen
Henley is a known asset who probably starts every game of the year, but Dickert needs other players to step up.
Travion Brown and Francisco Mauigoa each started two games last year, while former walk-on Kyle Thornton contributed when given the opportunity.
The three must increase their production in their expanded roles, or the reputation of Dickert’s defense might take a hit.
The FCS transfer posted 4,648 yards passing and 47 touchdowns last season, helping to lead Incarnate Word to a 10-3 record and the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Dickert’s decision to bring him into the program along with his head coach might turn out to be a stroke of genius.
Already known as a defensive-focused coach, the addition of a potential offensive powerhouse could be a game-changer. Ward arrived in time for Spring Ball and didn’t have to adjust to a new system.
His comfort level with the scheme, play-calling, and terminology should show from the opening snap of the season.
Reports out of Pullman indicate that Jenkins might wind up as the starter, yet there isn’t much proven depth in the group at this point of the year.
Nakia Watson is the only returning back with experience in 2021, and he has just a single start to his name.
Additional players could emerge, but the loss of Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh might sting.
On the other hand, if Jenkins and Watson form a dynamic one-two punch, the Washington State offense may turn out to be one of the deadliest in the Pac-12.
Deciding FactorsIt’s not often that individual players can be identified as deciding factors, but the production of backup defensive linemen Quinn Roff and Andrew Edson could prove pivotal.
The two sophomores posted respectable numbers in their freshmen year, combining for 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Yet, the WSU run defense was poor, which relegated the Cougars to 59th overall in third down conversion defense.
If Roff and Edson can increase their production when spelling Stone Jr. and Brennan, the Washington State run defense may take the leap it needs.
The up-and-coming edge rushers were too productive in their limited appearances to keep them off the field, and Dickert may look for ways to get them more involved.
Whatever it takes, the Cougars can’t allow opponents to run the ball as effectively as last season.
Similarly, WSU’s offensive line must keep Ward protected and improve its 2.38 sacks allowed per game.
Week Two, however, features a difficult test on the road to Wisconsin. A Cougar win would be a shock, although not out of the question.
Colorado State then comes to Pullman for the third game of the year, making a 2-1 start a clear expectation.
Oregon makes the journey to the Palouse in Week Four, bringing along with them an Upset Alert bell.
If Washington State is going to pull off a surprising upset this season, the matchup with the Ducks is probably the best chance.
October begins with a matchup against California that should end in a WSU win.
The following road games at USC and Oregon State may be different stories.
The contest against the Trojans figures to end in defeat, but the showdown against the Beavers is arguably one of the deciding games of the season.
A win in Corvallis could change the trajectory of the remainder of the campaign.
Utah comes to Pullman in another game that has a degree of upset potential, followed by three winnable contests against Stanford, Arizona State, and Arizona.
And after toppling the Dawgs in Seattle last year, the Cougs host the Huskies in the Apple Cup to cap the year.
With that docket in front of it, Washington State may have a floor of five wins and a ceiling as high as eight. As a true wildcard in the Pac-12 this year, it’s anyone’s guess what Wazzu’s final record is.
Still, Dickert’s defense combined with a new offense makes a 7-5 mark a reasonable projection.
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