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NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado

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2017 WSU Football Preview: Cougs’ offense will rely on its veterans

Luke Falk, Jamal Morrow and Tavares Martin Jr. lead an explosive attack.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This is the latest in our series of stories previewing the 2017 Washington State Cougars football season. For previous installments, click here.

There's lots of excitement heading into the 2017 football season. Based on what we've seen in practice video recaps and what we've read, the WSU offense could pick up right where it left off.

Wait ... let's hope that's not true, because the last time we saw the Cougar offense in an actual game, our dearly departed Gabe Marks said this:

"We sucked, our offense was horrible."

Oh.

We've had eight months to forget that Holiday Bowl performance, and the excitement about the 2017 version of the Washington State offense is here, and for good reason. Veterans are back at key positions, new and athletic receivers have arrived, and a Mike Leach offense is still a Mike Leach offense.

But the gap between the experienced and the inexperienced is wide. We know what Luke Falk, Tavares Martin Jr., the running backs, and Cody O'Connell can do, for example. But what about these new receivers? The new linemen?

For this offense to succeed like it has in past years, the veterans need to carry the load.

Running Backs

NCAA Football: California at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

2017 Running Backs

Name Year Height/Weight
Name Year Height/Weight
Gerard Wicks RS Senior 6'0", 221 lbs
Jamal Morrow RS Senior 5'9", 203 lbs
Keith Harrington RS Junior 5'8", 190 lbs
James Williams RS Sophomore 5'11", 195 lbs
Solomon Cooper RS Sophomore 5'9", 185 lbs
Caleb Perry Freshman 5'9", 162 lbs

The three-headed monster of Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks all return. The three combined last year for 2,829 total yards (that includes 181 kick or punt return yards). Wicks led the team with 11 touchdowns.

And don’t forget Keith Harrington. Harrington was a stud in 2015 as a freshman but injuries and the emergence of Williams pushed him to fourth on the depth chart.

Is this the year of the Boobie Breakout (TM)? He's a year older and he might be the player I'm most excited to watch.

Quarterbacks

NCAA Football: California at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

2017 Quarterbacks

Name Year Height/Weight
Name Year Height/Weight
Luke Falk RS Senior 6'4", 223 lbs
Tyler Hilinski RS Sophomore 6'3", 213 lbs
Trey Tinsley RS Sophomore 6'3", 211 lbs
Anthony Gordon RS Sophomore 6'3", 192 lbs
Casey Brink RS Freshman 6'2", 201 lbs
Connor Neville Freshman 6'2", 198 lbs
John Bledsoe Freshman 6'3", 209 lbs

Luke Falk is back. This is good.

Now, I don’t want to jinx anything, but here are some of the notable team records Falk will break this season:

  • Career 400+ yard passing games: Falk has 10, and the leader is Connor Halliday with 12.
  • Career pass attempts: Falk has 1,521, and the leader is Connor Halliday with 1,633.
  • Career total offense (net yards): Falk has 10,640, and there are two ahead of him — Connor Halliday with 10,812 and Alex Brink with 11,011 (this one could be broken on Sept. 2). This stat is misleading because sacks count as negative rushing yards. So let's move on to a more accurate stat.
  • Career passing yards: Falk has 10,893, and the two ahead of him are Alex Brink with 10,913 and Connor Halliday with 11,304 (this one could also be broken Sept. 2).
  • Career passing touchdowns: Falk has 89 and Connor Halliday is the leader with 90 (if Falk doesn’t at least tie Halliday in the first half on Sept. 2, something has gone horribly wrong).

The Cougars made it through 2016 without losing its starting quarterback to injury. Should Falk go down, behind him is redshirt sophomore Tyler Hilinski, who appeared in four games last year and was 24 of 30 for 245 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

He’s sat behind Falk long enough to at least make us all assume he’s ready as ever to go into a game. His performances against Idaho and Arizona last year were solid. He also played well in the Spring Game and could the most mobile quarterback on the roster — next guy possibly excepted.

Four-star signee Connor Neville is a true freshman and will be able to study under Falk and the rest of the returning QBs. John Bledsoe — son of Drew — is a preferred walk-on and chose to compete at WSU over accepting a scholarship from Northern Arizona.

If at least one of them doesn’t redshirt, something else has gone horribly wrong.

Wide Receivers

Washington State v Colorado Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

2017 Wide Receivers

Name Year Height/Weight
Name Year Height/Weight
Robert Lewis RS Senior 5'9", 167 lbs
C.J. Dimry RS Senior 6'5", 211 lbs
Tavares Martin Jr. Junior 6'1", 183 lbs
Kyle Sweet Junior 6'0", 193 lbs
Easop Winston Junior 5'11", 189 lbs
Brandon Arconado RS Sophomore 5'11", 182 lbs
Kainoa Wilson RS Sophomore 5'11", 169 lbs
Isaiah Johnson-Mack Sophomore 6'3", 216 lbs
Dezmon Patmon Sophomore 6'4", 212 lbs
Renard Bell RS Freshman 5'8", 162 lbs
Riley Krenz RS Freshman 5'10", 183 lbs
Davontavean 'Tay' Martin Freshman 6'3", 182 lbs
Travell Harris Freshman 5'9", 177 lbs
Jamire Calvin Freshman 5'10", 152 lbs
Hayden Harvey Freshman 6'2", 160 lbs
Jonny Neville Freshman 6'3", 191 lbs
Anthony White Jr. Freshman 6'1" 170 lbs

OK, let's get one thing out of the way first. After the last scrimmage, Kyle Sweet tweeted this:

On Sunday, Robert Lewis tweeted this:

There's no public knowledge of what's going on with Robert Lewis, but it doesn't take a detective to come up with some sort of educated guess. Whatever it is, we hope Lewis will be good and healthy in the long run, both for his personal and football futures.

By now, we should all have accepted the fact that Gabe Marks and River Cracraft have moved on. So let's talk about who is here.

There’s a gap between the receivers with plenty of experience (Martin Jr., Lewis, Kyle Sweet) and the ones with little experience (Isaiah Johnson-Mack, Dezmon Patmon, C.J. Dimry).

Martin Jr. is unquestionably the leader of this unit. He averaged 11.4 yards per catch last year and is fast and athletic. Lewis is a guy who seems to have been here forever. He’s been serviceable on the inside and is a solid veteran. Sweet, a junior, will also line up on the inside and has shown to be serviceable and versatile (he even punts!).

Beyond those three, the experience level drops dramatically.

Dimry got an extra year of eligibility. I've always been curious to see how he could use his tall frame (Mike Bush-style?) but he hasn’t seen the field enough to prove anything.

Two sophomores are really intriguing: Johnson-Mack and Patmon. Both are tall, athletic and fast. Patmon had a strong spring after being challenged by his head coach, and Johnson-Mack has impressed this fall, according to reports.

Another intriguing player is Renard Bell, a redshirt freshman. The three-star 2016 signee got to watch two of the greatest receivers in school history last year while learning the playbook. Bell will play on the inside and did this in the most recent scrimmage:

I can’t remember a time when WSU had a group of highly touted freshman receivers like this one. There’s a lot of athleticism in the freshman group, and a few may see some playing time this year.

There’s the four-star signee Jamire Calvin, who’s impressed during preseason practices and will almost certainly see the field this year. There’s Davontavean ‘Tay’ Martin, who’s tall and athletic and a pretty good basketball player, too. I’m guessing he’ll get some playing time.

There’s also Travell Harris, who like likely line up on the inside. Anthony White Jr. is another guy who seems to have plenty of potential.

And let’s not forget Easop Winston, the junior college transfer that shined during spring practices.

These are all guys that have plenty of potential but haven’t played in a college football game yet. There’s excitement, but there’s also trepidation because they are so green.

Offensive Line

NCAA Football: Washington State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

2017 Offensive Line

Name Year Height/Weight
Name Year Height/Weight
Cody O'Connell RS Senior 6'9", 368 lbs
Cole Madison RS Senior 6'5", 314 lbs
B.J. Salmonson RS Senior 6'4", 310 lbs
Andrew Dillard RS Junior 6'5", 306 lbs
Robert Valencia RS Junior 6'6", 291 lbs
Noah Osur-Myers RS Sophomore 6'4", 295 lbs
Cedric Bigge-Duren RS Sophomore 6'6", 320 lbs
Frederick Mauigoa Sophomore 6'3", 315 lbs
Liam Ryan RS Freshman 6'5", 281 lbs
Josh Watson RS Freshman 6'4", 292 lbs
Keenen King RS Freshman 6'4", 303 lbs
Nilsson Gaisoa RS Freshman 6'5", 318 lbs
Christian Haangana RS Freshman 6'4", 362 lbs
Vaughnden Handel RS Freshman 6'7", 301 lbs
Abraham Lucus Freshman 6'6", 281 lbs
Alec Kuzmack Freshman 6'5", 284 lbs
Jonathan Nathaniel Freshman 6'5", 259 lbs
Brian Greene Freshman 6'3", 290 lbs
Seth Yost Freshman 6'7", 350 lbs
Pake Taylor Freshman 6'5", 300 lbs

This is a gigantic group of lineman.

The WSU offensive line has three guys at 350 pounds or more, and 12 guys weighing 300 pounds or more.

In 2012, only six offensive lineman weighed north of 300 pounds.

This year, there’s All-American senior Cody O’Connell at left guard, junior Andre Dillard at left tackle, senior Cole Madison at right tackle, and senior B.J. Salmonson is the likely starter at right guard.

Salmonson was the sixth man last year and filled in at multiple spots.

Sophomore Frederick Mauigoa will be the starting center after cementing his spot in the spring.

The backups are huge but have almost no experience. The lack of experience is probably why the second unit struggled so badly in practice in Lewiston this month.

The young linemen include Noah Osur-Myers (probably the most experienced guy with the least experience, if that makes sense), Liam Ryan, Josh Watson, Keenan King, Nilsson Gaisoa, Christian Haangana and Cedric Bigge-Duren.

The backups are large and have great potential. They just need to prove it.

Conclusion

It is perfectly fine to be excited about the Cougars' new weapons on offense (I sure am!). But WSU cannot rely on them. In past years, WSU had to rely on its young guys. Those young guys are now old guys, and this offense will only go as far as its veterans take it.

Next up on Wednesday: The CougCenter Hour podcast preview!

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