WSU’s QB, D-line, special teams make the grade

Oct. 24—Last week, we evaluated the performance of the Cougars on a game-by-game basis. Now, let’s assess the grades for each position as the Washington State football team enters the second half of the season after a remarkable start.

The Cougars currently hold a 4-3 overall record and a 1-3 record in Pac-12 play, following their recent 38-24 loss to No. 9 Oregon.

Quarterback: A

Quarterbacks often receive extensive praise when things go well and bear the brunt of criticism when things go wrong. This has certainly been the case for WSU’s Cam Ward, who has faced both tremendous support and intense backlash.

Coach Jake Dickert believes that Ward hasn’t received enough recognition for his exceptional performance, and I concur. Ward boasts an impressive 69.9% completion rate, an average of 316.71 passing yards per game, and a remarkable tally of 15 touchdowns against only three interceptions. He demonstrates great agility in extending plays when faced with a collapsing pocket, and his average yards per game rank him at No. 8 in the NCAA. The Cougars owe their two top-25 victories to his exceptional talent.

Wide receivers/tight ends: A-

This group has undoubtedly shown the most improvement over the course of the season. The arrivals of transfers Kyle Williams (38 catches, 549 yards) and Josh Kelly (32 catches, 433 yards), coupled with slot wideout Lincoln Victor’s outstanding season (44 catches, 522 yards), have propelled the Cougs in the right direction in terms of their passing game. The key now is to find consistency and identify a standout performer among the plethora of tight ends at their disposal.

Running backs: D+

The Cougars’ running game currently ranks last in the Pac-12, with an average of 87.9 yards per game. Additionally, Jaylen Jenkins, a crucial backup running back, was dismissed from the team, as announced by Dickert on Monday. Though Nakia Watson, the starting running back, was a celebrated hero last year, he has struggled to deliver this season, accumulating just 173 yards at a meager average of 2.9 yards per carry.

Offensive line: C-

The offensive line showcased significant improvement in pass protection at the beginning of the season. However, they have recently faced challenges in both pass and run blocking, resulting in WSU’s three-game losing streak. The coaching staff has made changes to the lineup, but the optimal formula remains elusive, and time is running out.

Defensive line: A

The duo of senior edges Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. has consistently wreaked havoc in opposition backfields for what seems like an eternity.

Both players boast impressive statistics: Stone has accumulated 35 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, five quarterback hurries, and two forced fumbles, while Jackson has recorded 31 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, five quarterback hurries, and two fumble recoveries.

However, the intangible leadership qualities that these two individuals bring to the team cannot be quantified.

Linebackers: C

Evaluating this group proves challenging. One standout moment was Devin Richardson’s lack of awareness during a play that resulted in a 42-yard touchdown by Oregon’s Bucky Irving on Saturday.

Nonetheless, linebackers Kyle Thornton (54 tackles) and Richardson (45 tackles) rank as the team’s top tacklers. Although their effort is commendable, their instincts need refinement.

Defensive backs: B

WSU has a turnover margin of minus-4, which places them at a disappointing 105th position in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Noteworthy contributions include safety Jaden Hicks’ impactful tackles and nickel Kapena Gushiken’s impressive 88-yard interception return for a touchdown against UCLA. However, the Cougars struggled against two opposing freshman quarterbacks this season, which is a challenging feat in a conference filled with accomplished veterans.

Special teams: A+

This group deserves the highest accolades. Kicker Dean Janikowski has an impressive 7-of-8 success rate on field goals, including a remarkable 2-of-3 on attempts from 50-plus yards. Punter Nick Haberer ranks third in the Pac-12 with an average of 44.5 yards per punt, while kickoff specialist Colton Theaker once achieved a touchback from the 20-yard line against Northern Colorado. The only element missing for WSU is a kick or punt return resulting in a touchdown, although such occurrences are scarce in today’s college football landscape.

Contact Wiebe at (208) 848-2260, via email at [email protected], or on Twitter @StephanSports.


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