PULLMAN, WA- Washington State football is just four days away, so we thought it proper to give you our preview of what to watch for in this upcoming 2019 season. I'll be breaking down this preview into 4 categories: offense, defense, special teams, and the schedule. There's a lot to unwrap here, so let's dive in shall we?
What else is there to say other than THIS IS GOING TO BE FUN. The Cougars' offense has talent all over the field, especially at wide receiver (shocking I know), at offensive line, and even at running back with the duo of Max Borghi and former Notre Dame transfer Deon McIntosh, who is an excellent pass-catching back, just like his running mate Borghi. The big question coming into this season on offense was "Who will replace Gardner Minshew?" We got our answer just last week as Mike Leach named redshirt senior Anthony Gordon the starter at quarterback. Gordon doesn't have that much experience, but he did perform well during his time in JC where he played alongside current WSU wide receiver stand out, Easop Winston Jr.
Gordon has impressed since the Spring Game back in April. This is his fourth season in the program and he should have a good grasp of Mike Leach’s offense. His performance in recent scrimmages and 11-on-11 periods is encouraging. Many assumed (myself included), that Eastern Washington transfer Gage Gubrud would be the starting QB, but Gordon put up nice numbers during the pre-season, and won the job fair and square. Oh, also: Gordon was a New York Mets draft pick back in 2015. Expect to hear that a hundred times a game during the broadcast.
The Running Backs:
The running-back position appears to be well taken care of. With the departure of James Williams who is off pursuing a spot in the NFL, Max Borghi is the man of the backfield now. He scored 12 TD's last season as a true freshman, and bulldozed opponents left and right. His back up is Deon McIntosh, and he provides a nice 1-2 punch for the cougs out of the backfield. Clay Markoff was originally listed as a full back, and is reportedly a beast in the weight room, plus true freshman Jouvensly Basil could be mixed into the rotation as well.
The position is STACKED. Plain and simple. The two receivers on the right side, otherwise known as the Z position, Dezmon Patmon, and Easop Winston Jr. offer two different skill sets that make for a difficult matchup for any defense. On the other side, (The X-position), Tay Martin, and Calvin Jackson Jr. can do the same. I haven't even gotten to the inside receivers yet, who employ experienced players like Renard Bell, and Jamir Calvin; they can both cause havoc, as if the outside receivers weren't enough of a problem already! Add in the fact that running backs are basically wide receivers in Mike Leach's system, and you have a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
The cougs may have lost star OL Andre Dillard, but that's okay because Liam Ryan and his mullet can fill in where he left off. Robert Valencia at left guard is the only new addition at left guard. This squad was unproven a year ago but established itself quickly as one of the top o-lines in the nation and allowed just 13 sacks, best in the Pac-12. As long as the first unit stays healthy, this position will be strong.
That's the offense in a nut-shell, which brings us to the defense, which has a few question marks to say the least.
The front 7:
This is probably the deepest I've seen the front 7 in recent years for WSU. Usually, there are holes either in the defensive line, or with the linebacker core. This year, both positions appear to be well stocked. At defensive tackle, Lamonte McDougle is competing for time with the likes of Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei, and Jesus Echevarria. The defensive tackle spot was extremely thin last year, so this is encouraging. Nnamdi Oguayo returns for his senior season, and he needs to stay healthy. Expect to see Will Rodgers III, Dallas Hobbs and Karson Block in the rotation. Ahmir Crowder got some playing time last year but not enough to burn his redshirt. You should see him rotate in as well.
Jahad Woods spearheads the linebacker's core, and he is easily the most experienced, as well as the most accomplished of the group. He's joined by the likes of Justus Rogers, Dillon Sherman, and new addition Dominick Silvels, who has moved from a rush linebacker to this new position. He's a big and athletic body that can keep up with receivers if need be.
The secondary is the biggest question mark to me for WSU's defense this year, especially with the loss of star safety Jalen Thompson. The safety position is filled with inexperienced players who would have been better suited to learn under Thompson. The Nickelback position lost their two most experienced players in Hunter dale, and Kedron Williams.They will have to rely on some young bucks to step up and make plays. The cougs have some experience at the cornerback position, but they also have some concerns; namely the fact that they will be relying on some JC transfers to step up and play important snaps. The JC transfers do have some size which is nice, Derrick Langford stands at 6'2 which is excellent for a corner.
That brings us to the Special Teams! A position that used to fill me with dread, now is a group that can get the cougs out of a tight spot. The cougs bring back punter Oscar Draguicevich, who lead the Pac-12 with 45.72 yards per punt, and kicker Blake Mazza is back as well; last season he made 10-15 field goal attempts, which was the fewest amount of attempts in the Pac-12... #neverkick.
Last but not least, let's talk about the schedule!
8/31: New Mexico State (I'll be there!)
9/7 Northern Colorado
9/28 @ Utah
10/12 @ ASU
10/26 @ Oregon
11/9 @ Cal
11/23 Oregon State
11/29 @ Washington
12/6 Pac-12 Championship
As I look at the schedule, we have some tough road tests ahead of us. Namely, Utah, Oregon, and of course, the hated Huskies. Arizona State could also be a game to keep an eye on as far as difficulty is concerned. Still, I have the Cougs finishing with a 9-3 record in the regular season. The road tests are difficult, but if they steal one of those, I could see the cougs challenging for the Pac-12 north. Much of the national media sees Wazzu finishing 8-4 or worse. Looking forward to kick off of the 2019 season!