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INSIDE THE PAC-PART III
A tabular look at the WSU Cougars for next season
By: Richard Linde, 1 June 2002

 
In some of the early polls that have been taken thus far, the Washington State Cougars are ranked as high as 11th and 12th in the nation. The data in the tables from below seem to support those rankings. However, beware to the Cougar faithful: Football is played on the gridiron, not paper. J

With four of the interior offensive linemen returning, led by preseason All-American Derrick Roche, offensively speaking, the 10-2 Cougars from last season should rock and roll in 2002. Shifty, senior quarterback Jason Gesser, who led the Pac-10 in total offense last season, could lead the Cougars to the Roses in 2002, providing they replace leading rusher Dave Minich and leading receiver Nakoa McElrath. Wazzu will get immediate help from the J.C. ranks, where they have seven players incoming, four of them being running backs. Also, wide receiver Mike Bush returns; he had 46 receptions for 959 yards last season.

On defense the Cougs need to replace safeties Lamont Thompson, all Pac-10 career-interception leader, and Billy Newman, along with linebacker Roanall Smith. Most of the defensive linemen return, as does cornerback Marcus Trufant.

Inside the Pac-10, relatively speaking, the Cougars have the easiest road schedule of any of the leading contenders, getting Washington, Oregon, USC and ASU at home. They finish at UCLA, which could be their only toughie on the road, albeit all road games in the parity-ridden Pac-10 conference are not easy.

On the down side, during his thirteen-year stint at WSU, head coach Mike Price has never had back-to-back winning seasons, and last season counts as a winning season.

 
1. Upside-and-downside factors that could affect their title hopes.
 
Led by senior quarterback Jason Gesser, the Cougars hope to repeat their magic from last season (10-2). The next two tables examine the upside-and-downside factors affecting their title hopes. 
 
Upside Factors Remarks
Senior QB, Jason Gesser returns Led the league in passing and total offense last year. Strong backup in Matt Kegel
OL Derrick Roche returns First team Pac-10 last season
Head Coach Mike Price needs back-to-back winning seasons As the dean of Pac-10 coaches, he was the Pac-10 coach of the year in 2001. 
Fourteen starters return, of which most are seniors Eight seniors, five juniors, one sophomore.
Seven incoming J.C. players should plug graduation holes Two running backs participated in spring. In August, two running backs, a linebacker, a receiver and a tight end will join the team.
PK Drew Dunning returns First team Pac-10 last season. Made all 16 field goals from 40 yards or less. Hit 47 of 51 try-for-points. Was semifinalist for Lou Groza Award.
Kickoff specialist Adam Holiday returns Booted 52 of 80 kickoffs into end zone last season. Had 35 touchbacks.
Only one "relatively" tough road game: UCLA Cougs get ASU, USC, Oregon, UW at home. Bye-weeks before UW and UA
Critical Returnees Return most of their offensive and defensive linemen.


Downside Factors Remarks
Thirteen-game season Although there are two bye-weeks sandwiched in, the schedule could takes its toll on player health.
Inconsistency. Mike Price has gone 73-75 at WSU. In thirteen years as head coach at WSU, Price has never put back-to-back winning seasons together. He was 10-2 last season.
Not much of a home-field advantage Over the last five seasons against Pac-10 teams, the Cougs have gone 8-12 at home and 8-12 on the road.
Lose free safety Lamont Thompson and strong safety Billy Newman Thompson led the Pac-10 in interceptions last season. Is the Pac-10 career interception leader.
Lose punter Alan Cox Fourth in the Pac-10 last season; averaged 40.7 yards per punt.
Lose WR  Nakoa McElrath Caught passes for 1163 total yards last season.

 

2. Returning Starters

The Cougars return thirteen starters, seven on offense, five on defense and one specialist. Most of the offensive and defensive linemen return.

Returning offensive Starters (7)
QB Jason Gesser SR  6-1 192
WR Colin Henderson SR 6-1 185
WR Mike Bush SR 6-6 203
OL Tyler Hunt SR 6-3 271
OL Derrick Roche SR 6-5 281
OL Josh Parish JR 6-6 296
OL Calvin Armstrong SO 6-8 298

Returning defensive starters (5)
WE Fred Shavies SR 6-1 253
LT  Rien Long JR 6-6 287
RT Tai Tupai JR 6-5 332
CB Marcus Trufant SR 6-0 193
CB  Jason David JR 5-9 165

3. Offensive stats from 2001.

Of the eleven offensive statistical categories listed below, WSU finished in the top half of the Pac-10 in 9 categories. Rushing offense is an area for improvement. Four incoming running backs from the J.C. level should help the Cougars improve on that stat. 

Category Pac-10
Scoring Offense 2nd
Turnover Margin 3rd
Rushing Offense 6th
Total Offense 2nd
Pass Efficiency 1st
First Downs 1st
4th-down Conversions 7th
Red Zone Offense 5th
3rd-down Conversions 2nd
Sacks Against 5th
Time of Possession 2nd


4. Defensive statistics from last season (2001)

Of the ten defensive categories shown in the table below, the Cougars ranked in top half of the Pac-10 in nine of them. Offensively and defensively last season, the Cougars were a well-coached football team.

 

Category Pac-10
Scoring Defense 4th
Pass Defense  5th
Turnover Margin 3rd
Rushing Defense 4th
Total Defense 4th
Pass Def Efficiency 2nd
Opponent 1st Downs 5th
Opp. 4th-down Conv. 7th
Red Zone Defense 4th
Sacks By 1st

5. Special-Teams Statistics from 2001

Of the six special-teams categories shown in the table below the Cougars finished in the bottom of the half of the Pac-10 in four of them.

 

Category Pac-10
Kickoff Returns 10th
Punting 3rd
Punt Returns 9th
Field Goals 3rd
PAT Kicking  9th
Kickoff Coverage 8th

6. Schedule 2002

The Cougars play a demanding 13-game schedule this season. Two bye weeks sandwiched inside the schedule should help out. They have an extra week to prepare for Arizona and Washington each.

 

Date Opponent
August 31st Nevada at Seattle
September 7th Idaho (home)
September 14th Ohio State (Columbus)
September 21st Montana State (home)
September 28th California (Berkeley)
October 5th USC (home)
October 12th Stanford (Palo Alto)
October 26th Arizona (Tucson)
November 2nd Arizona State (home)
November 9th Oregon (home)
November 23rd Washington (home)
November 30th Hawaii (Honolulu)
December 7th UCLA (Pasadena)

 

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