I want to believe, Wazzu
With Martin Stadium renovations totaling $80+ million dollars that are nearly complete, all the Washington State Cougar football team needs now is to put a quality team on the field for the first time in more than a decade.
Sophomore year Head Coach, Mike Leach, says that a bowl game is not out of the question.
I have to admit, that would be nice, but as a Cougar fan myself for over 40 years I also am a realist. Of course Leach says that. What else can he say?
At this point, I’d be in love with the idea of a 7-8 win season. Could something convince me at camp this year?
With that in mind, here are 4 things I think Wazzu coaches and fans should watch for this camp that will tell us whether or not the Cougars are still on the path to a bowl bid.
1. The Mobility of QB Connor Halliday
My fellow Joel E. Ferris High School alum is never going to be Robert Griffin III. I can accept that. In fact, his style reminds me of Drew Bledsoe, a classic straight drop guy.
Connor Halliday needs to do a better job though of stepping up or to the side of the first pass rusher while keeping his eyes down field and his mind still committed to the pass.
Halliday was sacked 22 times last season and he didn’t even play every snap. Halliday’s QB partner, Jeff Tuel, was sacked an additional 35 times last time.
2. Offensive Line has to Protect the QB better
You want to play Air-Raid offense? You had better be able to pass protect, especially against Auburn in the season opener.
It’s simply not fair to throw all the blame for those sacks on the QB. The Cougars finished 2012 giving up nearly 5 sacks per game. That was good enough for LAST in the conference.
The good news is that according to Leach, as many as 4 of the 5 starters on the O-line this year could be new and/or walk on players.
The bad news? As many as 4 of the 5 starters on the O-line this year could be new and/or walk on players. Presumably, the only holdover would be RT Rico Forbes.
Who steps up and gets the nod on opening day for the other 4 spots is going to be fun to follow throughout camp.
Leach is a much better identifier of talent than Paul Wulff ever was. If Leach gives the starting nod to walk-on’s, you can bet there is a reason.
3. 3rd Down and Points Allowed
These two stats are linked in my mind and neither stat looks good from 2012.
The Cougars allowed over 400 points last year. That’s nearly 34 points per game. The defense also allowed almost half of all 3rd down tries last year at 45%.
The Cougars have to be able to get their offense back on the field in 2013.
A big part of that could be inspired play from defensive tackle, Xavier Cooper. The 6’4, 300 lb’er started 9 games for the Cougars last year as a red-shirt freshman.
Someone is going to have to step up and make up for the 9.5 sacks that departed senior Travis Long provided last year.
With a year of playing experience under his belt I think Cooper is poised to have a break out year and will start to become that type of player.
4. Scoring on the Ground
Everyone will likely agree that Teondray Caldwell will get the nod as the guy in the backfield. As great as that nearly 5 yard per rush average Caldwell had last year looks, he scored ZERO touch downs.
Behind him? Leon Brooks or Marcus Mason are the most likely to show highest on the depth chart but don’t count out Jeremiah Laufasa perhaps only because of one simply thing. He’s BIGGER than those other guys.
Last year, in 3rd and less than 3 situations the Cougars scored 1 touchdown. ONE!
In short yardage situations Leach is going to need a bigger back. Laufasa could be that guy. I know Leach is Air-Raid but I hope to see Leach put Laufasa in some goal line or short yardage situations and see if he can bang it in there.
A .500 season would almost seem like a dream to most Cougar fans. I say they pull it off in 2013. I am convinced! In 2014 perhaps we’ll even get a whiff of a rose!