4. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE WASHINGTON STATE DEFENSE
– The underappreciated Wazzu D allowed just 360 yards per game and led the Pac-12 in sacks. Six of the top nine tacklers are back, and the pressure should come from several spots after 14 Cougars ended up with a sack.
Sophomore Willie Taylor has the talent to blossom on one linebacker/end job after a four sack season, and leading sacker Dominick Sivels – with 4.5 sacks – will work in a hybrid role on the outside, and there’s good depth to keep up the pressure.
– The rotation should be fine in the interior, too, with Mission Aiolupotea-Pei and Lamonte McDougle two athletic options at one tackle spot, but they’re need more for their size. 250-pound Will Rodgers is an undersized veteran who can get in the backfield.
– Leading tackler Peyton Pelluer is done, but the linebacking corps is okay with Taylor and Sivels handling most of the pass rushing duties, and junior Jahad Woods a rock-solid, do-it-all playmaker on the outside. Juniors Justus Rogers and Dillon Sherman are taking over for Pelluer on the inside.
– The pass defense was decent considering offenses had to fire away to try keeping up, with 14 of the 17 touchdown passes allowed in four games. The corners are a slight question mark with two new starters, but Marcus Strong and George Hicks are veterans who can step in and be fine. Jalen Thompson was one of the Pac-12’s best safeties, but he’s going pro after being ruled ineligible thanks to an NCAA violation. Bryce Beekman is one of three JUCO transfers who should see meaningful time.