Fall camp has hit the Palouse. Here are three questions that need to be answered for Washington State over the next month.
1. How quickly can this defense jell?
With new coordinator Alex Grinch at the helm of the defense and a lot of spring practices spent focusing on a nickel defense, this fall will be crucial in getting this group to play together like a cohesive, effective unit on every level. Up front, they must replace Xavier Cooper and Toni Pole. In the back end, the Cougars must find a way to generate turnovers. Last season the Wazzu defense picked off only three passes and allowed 58 completions of 20-plus yards. That’s not good. At all. This group needs to take steps forward in nearly every direction. A influx of new leadership could be a very good thing for this group, or it could just be one more hurdle on the Cougs’ uphill battle.
2. Can Luke Falk’s learning curve continue?
A QB grows a lot between his freshman and sophomore seasons, especially after he’s thrown into the fire. So expect Falk to play better than he was even last spring. But to have a month’s worth of practices will all of the coaches and all of his teammates is something that he’s going to need to take full advantage of. The offense has a chance -- yet again -- to be explosive. With Falk as well as the five starting offensive linemen returning you’ve got a lot of trust and chemistry there. Falk has his arsenal of wide receivers and they’ll do what the Air Raid has always done. But with so many questions on the defensive side of the ball (especially early in the season), the offense may have to carry the defense even more than usual. And though Peyton Bender had a good spring, it’d be shocking to see anything but Falk as this group’s leader. “He does a great job leading the unit,” coach Mike Leach said of Falk. “Just really, even though he's a youngish guy, he does as good a job at managing the offensive unit as anybody I've dealt with. He'll continue to get better.”
3. Special teams?
So, let’s say this: It’s not great when the three biggest questions for any individual team address the three phases of the game. But let’s face it. The Cougars need to improve everywhere. On special teams Wazzu must not only figure out personnel but also how that personnel is going to compete in the Pac-12.