Washington State lost record-setting quarterback Connor Halliday and star wide receiver Vince Mayle, so this will be a rebuilding year. That's what a lot of people are saying, but don't buy it. This is a Mike Leach team after all. They will pick up right where they left off last season. Besides Halliday and Mayle the Cougars actually lost very few offensive players. This offense is not rebuilding, they are reloading.
While the Cougars lost Connor Halliday, they are not in a bad situation at quarterback. Luke Falk stepped in last year after Halliday broke his leg and averaged 443 yards a game, against Pac-12 competition. That speaks volumes about his abilities. The redshirt sophomore has four Pac-12 games under his belt and is not lacking in confidence.
That said, he is being pushed hard in camp by redshirt freshman Peyton Bender. Leach hasn't named an official starter yet, saying that it is still an open competition. But with his experience, the edge has to go to Falk.
The Cougars also lost star receiver Vince Mayle (now in the NFL) but they are arguably more loaded at wide receiver this year. They are returning Dom Williams, who had 43 catches for 656 yards and River Cracraft, who had 66 catches for 771 yards last season. They are also joined by Gabe Marks, who had 74 catches for 807 yards in 2013. Marks redshirted in 2014 after playing as a true freshman and sophomore. He is bigger and healthier after a year of rest and should be highly motivated after missing a year. Robert Lewis also chipped in 41 catches for 370 yards last year.
Washington State also have Clemson transfer Kyrin Priester, who was granted immediate eligibility to play by the NCAA and will not have to sit out a year. Priester is reportedly one of the fastest receivers on the team and has been playing extremely well in practice this fall. The former 4-star prep school player has been described as very explosive and should also be returning punts for the Cougars.
Another interesting new receiver is 6'5" junior college transfer C.J. Dimry. While not the fastest of the receivers, he has been able to use his size to his advantage against defensive backs in practice and has shown an ability for catches in the end zone.
In addition, the Cougars also have Daniel Lilienthal, Tyler Baker, John Thompson and Tavares Martin. This team is absolutely loaded at wide receiver.
The Cougars are returning their entire offensive line from last year. They are big and experienced. NFL prospect Joe Dahl is the anchor of the line at left tackle. Their experience should lead to fewer sacks and an improvement in the run game. Dahl will be joined by right tackle Cole Madison, center Riley Sorenson, right guard Eduardo Middleton and left guard Gunnar Eklund. All of them are over 6'4" tall and they average 310 pounds.
No. That's the answer to if the Cougars are going to run more this season. Leach believes in passing and that isn't going to change. However, with the experienced O-line and returning backs, they should run more effectively. Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks split time last season and that should continue this year. Morrow finished with 811 combined passing and rushing yards, but Wicks has shown more explosiveness.
Player to Watch
Receiver Gabe Marks is set to have a massive year. After being one of the best receivers for the Cougars in 2012 and 2013, he was forced to redshirt in 2014. He spent all of last season practicing but not playing in any games, and you can bet he is more than ready to terrorize some defensive backs. It wouldn't be a surprise for him to hit the 1,000 yard mark in 2015.
To Sum it Up
This is going to be a really fun offense to watch. Leach finally has Pac-12 caliber athletes on his roster and it is beginning to show. This will be his best offense at Washington State yet. Unlike previous years there is good depth at many of the positions, and they should be able to weather some injuries. They are very loaded at receiver, and have a very good O-line. This team is going to be entertaining, but we will see if scoring translates to winning.