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Interactive Graphic: Get to know WSU’s new D-Coordinator, Jake Dickert

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Cheez-It Bowl - Air Force v Washington State Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Before Mike Leach left for Starkville, the number one coaching staff question on my mind heading into the offseason was “what is the plan on defense?” The Washington State Cougars had experienced a defensive renaissance of sorts under Alex Grinch that Tracy Claeys improved upon in his first season. After three seasons of top 60 scoring defenses, the Cougs took a big step back to 93rd in 2019. Once the high of Nick Rolovich getting hired had worn off, I felt my mind returning to the worry about the defense.

I was hopeful that getting a head coach from the Group of 5 would mean a much larger pool of money for assistants and hopefully a Power 5 name that was somewhat recognizable. Instead, WSU announced the hiring of Jake Dickert, who was the defensive coordinator at Wyoming in 2019, his first year in the role (he coached safeties the prior two seasons).

Don’t fret, we’ll jump into the data in a second, but the following from the WSU release really stood out to me as a foundation for some excitement around the potential defensive output that Dickert is bringing with him.

This past season, the Cowboys were sixth in the country in red zone defense, No. 11 in the country in rush defense (107.1) and scoring defense (17.8), No. 40 tackles-for-loss (83) and No. 43 in total defense. Dickert saw four Cowboys earn All-Mountain West Conference honors led by second-team All-American linebacker and Butkus Award Finalist Logan Wilson while redshirt-freshman defensive end Solomon Byrd was named a Freshman All-American by the Football Writers Association of America.

While watching football is something I have spent probably a concerning amount of my life doing, I’m not someone who can break down scheme without a little help from more football knowledgeable friends. However, I hope that their red zone defense indicates that Wyoming had some legit counter punches to the offenses it faced once they got into the red zone, which is a very encouraging sign. Since all this talk of counting stats above is making me nauseous, lets jump into some charts.

Water Cooler Talking Points About What WSU Is Getting With Jake Dickert

  • Wyoming was 21st in giving up explosive plays in 2019, while WSU was 126th
  • Wyoming was 23rd in Stuff Rate, while WSU was 123rd (Stuff Rate is what % of runs are stopped at or behind line of scrimmage)
  • In SP+, which controls for opponent strength, WSU was 65th of 76 Power 5 + Mountain West teams on defense, while Wyoming was 27th
  • Wyoming was 3rd nationally in TD% on opponent trips inside the 40, WSU was 68th

The below chart compares the 2019 WSU defense to the 2019 Wyoming defense. Much of the above is highlighted below. The thing that is most interesting to me about their defense is how stout they were against the run. With Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford (if they return to Shaw’s earlier style), Cal and UW all seemingly putting more of an emphasis on the run, this hire should bode well for helping the Cougar defense compete in the division a bit better than last year.

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It’s clear that Wyoming had a better defense than WSU last season in efficiency and explosiveness, but does that mean in their context as a Mountain West team? If you’re unfamiliar with SP+, it is an advanced analytics methodology created by Bill Connelly, formerly of SB Nation, currently of ESPN. The goal is to control for the level of your opponent to get a better sense of how good each team in college football is.

The below chart is the Power 5 + Mountain West over the last 3 seasons. On defense, the lower your score the better and I inverted the axis to make it a bit more intuitive when viewing it (higher on the chart is better). In 2017 the Cowboys and Cougs were right next to each other in the rankings and score, Wyoming at 23.10 and WSU at 22.1. This means that against an average team you would expect each defense to give up that many points. As you’ll see in the chart, Wyoming maintained and improved a bit, finishing 2019 at 21.8, ranked 27th of the 76 teams in P5 + Mountain West, where as WSU fell off a cliff, giving up 33.3 points vs an average offense and dropping from 27th in 2017 to 65th in 2019. The only defenses to fall off more than WSU from 2017 are Texas, Boston College and Florida State. Dickert was on staff for all of those seasons at Wyoming, which I hope means that he understands how to build a defense around his scheme for sustainable success.

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Hawaii and Wyoming missed each other in 2019, but when they played in 2018 the Cowboys held Hawaii to 17 points, their lowest point output on offense in the regular season outside of a 56-17 loss to 18th ranked Utah State. The below chart shows what that match up would have looked like if the two had met on the field last season. Hawaii was one of the most efficient running offenses in the country, ranking 9th in success rate, while Wyoming was one of the best on defense, ranking 3rd. Along with being efficient, Hawaii hit a good number of explosive runs and Wyoming was good at stopping them. It’s important to remember that Hawaii was 4th in the country in % of plays that are passing, so it’s not like we’d see some huge shift away from what we’ve seen with the Air Raid. This means that when Hawaii ran they were really good at getting yards and hitting big plays. This game would have been a chess match on first down and on scoring opportunities (trips inside the 40). If a defense can be productive on early downs and limit scoring opportunities you’re going to be in great shape.

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WSU is getting a defensive coordinator who has been in a successful program and had success himself last year when calling plays. With it, they’re also getting Wyoming’s best recruiter John Richardson, whom I have heard has strong ties to the LA area. The Cougs just struggled to stop anybody in the running game last year. My worry is that may be a personnel thing over a coaching thing, given how light WSU is across the defensive line. There are a lot of players returning next year and I’m excited to see how they perform. I’m expecting growing pains in 2020, but a lot of upside given the success that Dickert and his staff had at Wyoming. Get WSU a top 60 scoring defense and magic can happen with how talented the roster is in offense. Lets Roll!