It's Washington State's turn for a spring game Saturday. Here's a look at three things to watch when the Cougars take the field in Spokane:
1. Running back rotation: Washington State's rushing output more than doubled last season. The Cougars simply tweaked their offensive approach to better fit their personnel: Quarterback Luke Falk was more suited to take snaps from under center than his predecessor Connor Halliday, and the team's three-headed trio of running backs proved capable of taking on more work than the year prior. The fact that the offensive line was filled with big, strong bodies didn't hurt either.
All three of those backs -- Gerard Wicks, Jamal Morrow, and Keith Harrington -- are back for more in 2016. Freshman James Williams, a fourth talented option, also enters the mix this season.
How will Washington State balance the load between this quartet? Mike Leach has said that he'd be happy to name one the main man if he stands out -- last year, Wicks shouldered the largest load -- but the fact now is that each of the four has his own respective strengths. So watch how the Cougars juggle the rotation; there'll be an interesting game of mix-and-match at play.
2. Line development: Washington State must replace big names on both sides of the line. Offensively, big left tackle Joe Dahl is gone. He allowed only four sacks over the past two seasons, a ridiculously low number considering the fact that the Cougars pass so often. Andre Dillard was Dahl's back-up last year, and the redshirt sophomore -- who has bulked up to 290 pounds to complement his prototypical 6-foot-5 inch height -- is a candidate to grab that critical left-tackle spot. Pay attention to his spring game performance.
On the defensive side, Washington State graduates productive linemen Darryl Paulo and Destiny Vaeao. Those two led the defense in tackles for loss, combining for 25.5 in that category. Hercules Mata'afa, who impressed as a freshman with both his name and his tackle-for-loss count (11), will be expected to shoulder an even larger load, as will Daniel Ekuale and Robert Barber.
3. Receiver depth: Dom Williams is gone after a 1,000-yard receiving campaign. But there's plenty of good news on this front: Gabe Marks is back after his big 104-catch, 1,192-yard season, and the Cougars have more experience coming back in River Cracraft and Robert Lewis. There are plenty of talented young names in the receiver room, too, and Leach is excited that the veteran core of the passing game will shepherd them along in 2016.
Falk is now a master of the Air Raid, so watching him work in sync with experienced targets is always a treat -- even if it is only the spring game.