Every offensive lineman is back, there is a wide receiving corps unlike anything WSU has seen for nearly a decade, three running backs all with distinct styles and at least two quarterbacks who are capable of keeping everything humming along almost as well as the senior who just graduated.
Nope, it's not the offense we're worried about.
It's the defense that, despite from some pretty decent play by the line, ranked close to dead last in the Football Bowl Subdivision in just about every imaginable category last year. A defense that picked off a grand total of three passes and recovered five fumbles which left them with, on average, a minus-1.42 turnover margin per game. Even without using counting stats, advanced metrics showed the defense was still somewhere between awful and stupendously craptastic.
Even though we can somewhat attribute the abhorrent turnover numbers to luck, as a unit, WSU's defense regressed back further than I think anyone ever thought it could.
That's where Alex Grinch comes in.
This is Grinch's first opportunity as a defensive coordinator, which gave me some pause when he was hired in January. The Pac-12 continues to get better and WSU is still trying to find the right combination of keys to hit to get out of "Rebuild Mode". Trusting your defense to a guy who, although he has coached defensive units before, has never stood at the helm of an entire side of the football is a risky proposition at best.
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The articles about Grinch have all been glowing. He's more hands on with the defensive backs, which was his specialty before coming to WSU. He's emphasizing taking the football away and giving it back to the high-powered offense. The players are buying into his "brainwashing" and seem to have embraced Grinch's coaching style and philosophy.
Which is all well and good but we see praise and articles like that every preseason, not just when a new defensive coordinator gets hired. We won't actually know what kind of an effect its had on the Washington State defense until they take the field on Saturday against the Vikings. Even then, we probably won't really know how good or bad this defense is until they play an FBS opponent.
But it's important for this defense to get off to a good start. That means, even with the second unit on the field later in the second half, Portland State's offense is limited to a score in the teens. It means picking off multiple passes and forcing fumbles, even if you don't necessarily recover them. It means racking up sacks against a woefully undersized and overmatched offensive line. It means not giving up big gain, especially on the trick plays Portland State will inevitably throw at you.
A good, confidence building week against an opponent who you should be able to dominate could go a long way for this defense. All Alex Grinch needs to do is get this defense from bad to merely below average. That's it. A defense resembling what was on the field in 2013 for Washington State, and you've got yourself in a position to at least compete for a bowl game.
Portland State is a decent litmus test for where this defense is compared to a year ago. Get out there, create some turnovers and hold them to a couple of late touchdowns. The big test doesn't come until next week but a strong performance against an opponent you should dominate will go a long way to putting fans at ease.