In 2012, Washington State‘s defense made some unexpected steps in the right direction while the offense struggled mightily. A weak O-Line combined with spotty QB play led to the team averaging just 20.4 points/game, ranking 108th in the nation and 11th in the conference.
Looking forward, we mostly know what to expect out of the Cougars. The defense is experienced and should improve again, but not enough to make up for the expected offensive struggles. The problematic O-Line will remain, as will the shaky Connor Halliday.
If neither of those parts have improved, the talented receiving corps won’t be able to shine. The outlook of the running back position, on the other hand, is murkier.
The now graduated Carl Winston did more than a serviceable job over his career, but his departure leaves an inexperienced backfield. While the Cougs don’t run often (they finished dead last in rushing yards last season), the running backs are expected to be weapons in the passing game, as well as being effective pass blocking.
Sophomore Teondray Caldwell is in line to take over the lion’s share of the carries, but he managed just 36 yards on 14 catches in his freshman campaign. However his average of 4.5 yards/carry is enough to make up for any talent he lacks in the receiving apartment.
Those rushing stats are nothing to scoff at considering the line he was relying on to create holes to run through and Caldwell’s health problems. He struggled to stay on the field long enough to build up any real momentum or yardage.
Caldwell should have the top spot on the depth chart heading into the season, but for him to truly blossom under Mike Leach he’ll need to do more in the passing game in addition to staying healthy.
Marcus Mason has the speed to be very fun to watch, but hasn’t been able to show off that speed when rushing the ball. Of his 12 carries from last season, his longest was a whopping 4 yards. However, Mason showed he’s a useful target out of the backfield over the last 4 games of his junior campaign.
Highlighted by an 8 catch, 54 yard performance with one TD against UCLA, Mason made his case for more playing time this year based on his receiving abilities alone.
He will certainly be in the mix this year as a No. 2 back, and if Caldwell’s health hinders his play, Mason could be thrust into the position of primary running back for significant chunks of time.
Leon Brooks is another senior returning to the Cougars in 2013. Brooks had 12 carries for 78 yards last season, but that’s skewed by a 40-yarder against Cal. Taking that away, Brooks’ longest rush was 11 yards.
That rush against Cal in week 7 was the last time Brooks was on the box score, as Mason took over the 3rd back duties after that. Brooks won’t get much action out of the backfield this year, but he should continue to return punts for the Cougs.
The last returning running back is Theron West, a redshirt freshman. West may wish he had another redshirt for this year; he’ll see very little game time.
There are three incoming freshmen running backs, but it’s safe to assume a combination of redshirts and position changes will keep them from being in the conversation this year.
Teondray Caldwell is as close as Washington State has to an all-down back. However, his inability to stay healthy or catch passes out of the backfield could have him watching Marcus Mason take a more-than-insignificant number of snaps.
If rotated and utilized correctly, the Cougars backfield has the talent to help fix Wazzu’s broken offense.