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Interactive Graphic: Coug D looks to feast on turnover-prone San Jose State

This could get ugly.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Grinch helped instill an identity of takeaways and speed during his time as defensive coordinator of the Washington State Cougars. Week one of 2018 wasn’t turnover filled, with only one takeaway, but Hunter Dale and company went on the road and in many ways replicated the solid performances that had Ohio State courting Grinch away from WSU.

The Cougar defense held Wyoming to 3.49 yards per play, 3.35 yards per passing attempt, and 21% conversions on 3rd Down. For a defense that posed a lot of question marks, I don’t think we could’ve asked for much more. While many of the Cowboy’s 2017 offensive woes reared their head Saturday, one area they stayed consistent was not turning the ball over a ton. WSU’s next opponent is maybe one of the worst in FBS (#128 in S&P+) and could provide Cougar fans with flash backs to the days of take away ball.

In 2017 San Jose State had the ball a lot. They averaged almost 14 possessions a game, good for #11 in FBS. The issue with all those possessions is that they were allergic to staying on the field. The Spartans punted 86 times (#5 nationally) and gave the ball away 42 times (#130), 11 times more than the next to last teams Washington State (wait, wut?) and Central Michigan, who each turned it over 31 times.

The below chart looks at the above mentioned stats. The y axis is possessions per game, the x axis is what % of a team’s possessions resulted in a turnover. The goal is to see if the amount a team turned it over or didn’t was related to having more possessions or opportunities to do so or because they were indeed turnover prone. You can highlight any team and it will show that team’s performance going back to 2015.

The bad news for San Jose State is that they both had a ton of possessions and turned the ball over a lot, giving it back to the defense on 23% of their possessions. They also ranked #129 in % of possessions resulted in a touchdown and #127 in points per possession. Cougs should be able to feast on Saturday night.

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San Jose State turned the ball over 3 times to FCS UC Davis in week 1. Josh Love and Michael Carrillo both threw interceptions and the Spartans also fumbled. The Spartans had 16 possessions, but their 18% turnover rate was slightly better than 2017, but still not promising.

Another area that I think Hunter Dale and the Cougar defense will excel on Saturday is on 3rd Down. San Jose State converted 38% of their 3rd Down opportunities in week 1, but ranked 122 in 2017 only converting 31% of the time. The below chart tracks WSU’s performance in every game of the Leach era on defense, but is filtered to 2016-2018. It’s highlighted on Wyoming to compare week 1 under Tracy Claeys to the prior two seasons in a bunch of stats.

While WSU has only held opponents during that time frame to a 44% conversion rate on 3rd down, they locked the Cowboys down last week, only giving up a first down 21% of the time. At home, in front of a Martin Stadium that has been tailgating for a billion hours, I think the Cougar trio of Dominick Silvels, Will Rodgers III and Willie Taylor III have success on early downs. Second down is a lot of the Spartans trying to run it to avoid turnovers and getting a healthy dose of Peyton Pueller and Jahad Woods and landing in 3rd and long.

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The 35-point spread seems like a lot, especially with Gardner Minshew II making his second start for WSU. However, taking a peek at the San Jose State offense I think the Cougar offense is going to have a lot of opportunities in general on Saturday, and San Jose State is #notgood on offense. Craig Bohl noted in his post game comments last Saturday that Mike Leach has built a program, not just a team. Last Saturday the Cougs looked like a program stocked with better athletes leaning on an opponent they should beat and running away with it. There are still many questions about this team, but I believe WSU has another chance to display the program they’ve become by hopefully dominating on defense and giving the offense a lot of reps to get ready for the rubber match vs Eastern Washington.