The offense is set to eat up the field and score a ton of points, but if the Washington State Cougars are going to take another leap in 2014, the defense is going to have to step up and make some crucial stops in the second half of football games.
With a young, inexperienced secondary, that accomplishment might well rest on the shoulders of the Cougar front-seven, specifically the defensive line. Last season the d-line was a bright spot early on in the season and was looking like the surprise group of the conference, but as the season wore on a lack of depth began to take its toll and the defense wore down.
This became especially evident in the final two games of the season, when Bishop Sankey of Washington and Kapri Bibbs of Colorado State mauled the stat-sheet in the second half of their respective games against WSU. Though they tried hard, the line looked tired and defeated at times, just a result of too few bodies being beaten down over the course of a season.
This year it has to be different and it seems to be, as the Spring has produced some good competition for a lot more depth at each position. Daniel Ekuale, Ivan McLennan and Darryl Paulo look like great backup options after a productive Spring, while nose tackle Ngalu Tapa and defensive end Kingston Fernandez are expected to come in, make some noise and challenge for playing time as true freshmen.
Xavier Cooper should once again be a main piece of the puzzle and is receiving some early recognition as someone who should make a difference as a nationally recognized standout. He has been named to the 2014 College Football Performance Awards (CFPA) Defensive Lineman Trophy watch list. Cooper made 50 tackles last season with 13.5 for loss and five sacks, both team high’s.
If he can have an even bigger impact in 2014 and the rest of the line (which includes veterans Destiny Vaeao and Toni Pole) can make a stronger, more consistent push into the backfield, the Cougs could have a surprising season defensively.