In a little less than two weeks, 35,000 or so fans will pack into Gesa Field to kick off the 2022 Washington State football season, and it’s a new beginning in so many ways.
For the first time in two years, the spectre of Covid won’t be hanging over each game as we wonder who might not be available ... and whether the game will even be played at all. Normalcy has more or less returned to our lives, for better or worse.
Also new this year: Jake Dickert will lead the team out of the football building as the 34th head coach in program history, fresh off inking a five-year deal with the university following his successful interim stint that culminated with a 40-13 beatdown of Washington in the Apple Cup — the largest margin of victory for WSU in the century-old series.
With the change in head coaches comes a change in offensive philosophy, but it’s not like it’s a radical one: Led by former Mike Leach player and assistant Eric Morris, the Cougs are returning to the Air Raid roots that boosted the program back to prominence a decade ago. Even better, he brought FCS all-American Cam Ward with him to sling the rock — and, per usual, Ward’s got a slew of talented receivers to throw to.
Defensively, things should look very similar: New coordinator Brian Ward (no relation to Cam) came over from Nevada, but he worked with Dickert at North Dakota State and brings the same sort of aggressive, ball hawking philosophy that the Cougars employed to great success last season. A pair of great edge rushers — Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson — will lead the way, and with the exception of just a couple of positions on the field, the Cougs are deep and experienced across the board.
There are legitimate reasons to think both units can take a step forward.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t questions, however.
The offense is exceptionally young, particularly on the offensive line and at running back. The o-line returns virtually intact from its poor debut performance in the Sun Bowl, and the beginning of Leach’s tenure showed us how a subpar offensive line can sabotage everything an Air Raid is trying to do. Can this unit avoid a similar fate? And we know Dickert wants to run the ball, yet none of the runners on the roster has significant experience. Nakia Watson is the presumed starter, but he has underwhelmed. Will he find his stride?
Defensively, free safety and middle linebacker are still up in the air, even with the opener just around the corner. Those positions are surrounded by experience, but still ... will they be able to carry their own weight?
Nobody wants to be the group to break the school’s record streak of bowl appearances. Over the next two weeks, we’ll be trying to forecast if these guys have it in them to make it seven in a row. We’ll come at you with a series of stories ranging from deep dives into numbers to Xs and Os to irreverent takes on gambling and more. Hopefully, the kind of stuff you’ve come to love about CougCenter.
Let the fun begin!
Later today: Breaking down WSU’s offensive personnel.