Washington State football is in a strange place. The Cougars have won three of their last four. However, the university terminated former head coach Nick Rolovich for cause following his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The Cougars have wins over the bad Pac-12 teams like Cal and Stanford but also Oregon State. This isn’t the high-scoring Mike Leach teams coming in averaging only 25 points per game (91st of 130 FBS teams. It’s the other unit that’s led Washington State.
A Defensive Revival
The biggest reason for the Cougars turnaround after a slow start is the defense. Defensive coordinator Jake Dickert, who is serving as the interim head coach, has done a really good job with his unit the past four weeks.
Washington State held Cal to six points. Followed that by forcing Chance Nolan into an awful day against a solid Oregon State team. After allowing over 300 yards to the Beavers, Washington State held Stanford under 100 rushing yards. Despite the loss to BYU, Dickert’s head coaching debut limited BYU to its second-lowest point total of the season.
The passing defense has been the real star. The Cougars ranked 43rd in the nation in passing yards allowed (212.1 yards per game). Seven different players have interceptions for Washington State, and really turned it up late as only Stanford’s Tanner McKee has found a good amount of success lately.
Not only did the Cougars have a slow start record wise, but in terms of scoring points it takes them a bit. In nearly half of its games, Washington State has been shutout in the first quarter. Outside of a quick 14-point start against Cal, where the Cougars only scored seven the rest of the game, it’s been more of a walk to run and shoot offense.
Regardless, there has been quick adjustments. Washington State scored 20 second-quarter points to beat Stanford and 28 of its 31 points versus Oregon State came in the second half.
The caveat is how much of the offense did offensive coordinator Brian Smith have control of? The Cougars really struggled on offense against BYU after Rolovich’s departure. Obviously the team will have less questions and more time to prepare leading into the matchup in Tempe.