There is no need to try and eloquently bury the lede: Alex Grinch’s #SpeedD is on fire.
I expected the offense to carry this team and for 2017’s success to be fully on Luke Falk’s shoulders. After eight weeks and five conference games, it’s actually the defense that has set the tone in many ways, and I think something special isn’t just brewing on the Palouse — it’s already come to fruition.
WSU linebackers coach Roy Manning frequently talks about joining the hunt, not the hype, and this Cougar defense is full of hunters that fly around and often turn the game into a disaster zone of chaos for the offense.
Washington State’s defense 7th in FBS in yards per game (278), 3rd in passing yards allowed per game (153.9), 4th in 3rd Down Conversion % (24%), 12th in turnovers forced (16). The advanced stats love them too; opponent adjusted S&P+ has the Cougs ranked as the 12th-best defense in the country.
Raise your internet hand if you thought it would be the defense and not the offense with those stat rankings back in August?
They’re even doing a great job of limiting big plays, which was a bit of struggle last year. So far in 2017 they’re 2nd nationally in limiting plays of 20+ yards and 8th in limiting plays of 30+ yards, up from 63rd and 61st in 2016.
It’s clear Grinch and his squad have bought into the #SpeedD identity. I’ve often dreamed of what a Mike Leach-coached team would look like with a decent defense. But we aren’t dreaming, we’re living it, and this defense so far is far from decent — they’re the appropriate use of the word awesome.
Below is a chart with multiple stat selections, but let’s start by looking at points per game. In 2014 before Grinch arrived, WSU gave up 38 points a game and they showed really solid improvement in his first two seasons. Now, the Cougs sit at 2nd in the Pac-12, only giving up 18 points a game. He’s shaved 20 points a game off of where this defense was the year before he came on board.
Cycle through the rest of the stat selections because it’s a parade of awesome. WSU is 1st, 2nd or 3rd in every category in there except for pass attempts per interception.
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With the departure of Coach Joe, the defense’s ability to get pressure on the QB was another area of concern coming into 2017; after all the Cougs had been really bad at that with Salave’a at the helm.
When Frankie Luvu moved to rush linebacker, the pessimist in me thought moving a senior to a new position was not a good sign. I will happily eat that crow. Luvu is 3rd in the Pac-12 in sacks behind fellow agent of chaos Hercules Mata’afa, and those two have led the charge in terrifying opposing QB, resulting in WSU sitting at 2nd in drop backs per sack in the Power 5. The Cougs are sacking the QB on every 10th drop back thus far in 2017, trailing only Clemson.
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This defense is special, but even more than that, they’re really damn fun to watch. They’re fast and they hit hard. They look like they’re having a blast doing it as well. We are getting to witness something exceptional for the Cougs this fall, and while they face a big test this week in limiting Khalil Tate of Arizona, they’re well coached and I expect them to be ready to go. Join the hunt, hop on the SpeedD bandwagon, and enjoy these hell raisers we have on defense while you still can.