Because it's tough to come up with a lot of content that's not covered elsewhere until the Cougs actually play a game, Grady and I decided we would tackle one burning question surrounding the team each day until kickoff on Saturday.
What player is most key to the Cougs' defensive success this year?
Nuss: I'll go ahead and pick Kevin Kooyman. By all accounts, he's ready to take the next big step, and although we all know how those kinds of preseason predictions can go – anyone remember what people were saying about Shaun Alexander at the beginning of last season? – no one would do more for the success of this defense than Kooyman.
Although we all hope experience translates into better performance for our secondary, there's a chance these guys just aren't talented enough to hang with elite receivers in the Pac-10. There's pretty much only one thing that can help a not-so-good secondary (save for going nickel at the expense of defending the run) and that's pressure on the quarterback. If Kooyman truly is ready for a breakout season and he can get some pressure on the quarterback, that will do wonders for our pass defense.
However, you'll have to excuse me if I'm not buying into the hype surrounding a guy who recorded 10 tackles ALL OF LAST SEASON. Not in one game, not in three games ... in seven games. He did get 3 1/2 sacks ... but two came in the season opener against San Diego State. So I'm not exactly drinking the Kool-Aid yet.
Grady: I see your Kooyman and I'll raise you a Chima Nwachukwu, partly because of the point that you mentioned.
That is, if the Cougar secondary isn't good enough to defend the pass, we'll be relying on the D-line's pressure to make up the difference. The other reason is that any shut down cornerback or safety the Cougars can find can go a long way toward helping the other Wazzu defensive backs.
The great thing about Chima, other than his name, is that he's shown the ability to rise to the challenge in games against quality opponents. A career high 13 tackles against USC gave him a Pac-10 player of the week nomination as a first year freshman. And his 12 starts give him at least some experience... a rarity among the Cougar secondary this year. He still has some room to improve in terms of interceptions (1, against Idaho) and pass deflections (5 last year), but his 73 tackles are an impressive number for a frosh trying to make a name for himself in the Pac-10.
Former CB coach Dave Walkosky told the P-I last year,
"He's ultra-coachable, which is just great... He buys into everything you say. He doesn't question the coaching. He takes the coaching and tries to fix it (problems) the next day. You wish all players were like that. He's so hungry for knowledge. When he asks questions, he has good questions related to what you've put in."
That is the kind of lead-by-example attitude that should help Chima become a better leader, and a better player. And boy, do we need him. Especially with Husain Abdullah gone, who led the Cougs in tackles last season. That passing defense coughed up 258.5 yards per game and 23 touchdowns - numbers that should put a scare into Wulff. And here's a really strange stat: WSU was outscored by opponents in the first quarter last year 124-65. No other quarter comes close. Nwachuckwu has to bolster the secondary enough to keep the game from getting out of reach in the first half. We can't afford a differential like that this season and expect to win.