WSU returns nine starters on defense, but it has to up production in some key areas
It’s not a coincidence that Washington State’s combined 17-9 record the past two seasons coincided with Alex Grinch’s hire as defensive coordinator. Before Grinch’s arrival in 2014, the Cougars allowed an average of 38.6 points per game. Last season that average was down to 26.4.
Translated: The defense has gotten stingier under The Grinch. Last season, WSU gave up almost two touchdowns fewer per game than it did before Grinch took over the defense.
Much of that has to do with the aggressive, turnover-focused style that the high-energy Grinch has introduced on the Palouse. The Cougars have put up some brilliant defensive performances in several games the past two seasons, but there also have been some lapses.
For WSU to get to the next level and start competing for conference championships, the Cougars must play that level of defense consistently in every game.
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Could this be the year the defense finds that elusive level of top notch consistency and asserts its dominance? Here’s a preview:
Reason for optimism: The Cougars return explosive young pass rusher Hercules Mata’afa, who’s led the defense in sacks two years in a row. WSU also is excited by the pass-rushing potential Derek Moore flashed as a freshman in 2016, when he notched 16 tackles in 13 games.
Cause for concern: Any member of the defensive line will attest that production was lacking in 2016. The line accounted for 13 of the Cougars’ 20 sacks in 2016, down from 19.5 in 2015. Simply put, the Cougars didn’t finish enough plays behind the line of scrimmage. They pursued and hurried quarterbacks but often couldn’t sack the quarterback or force a fumble. They need to finish this year.
Key stat: 23 – turnovers forced in 2016. That’s one shy of Grinch’s magic 24-turnover benchmark…