After successfully getting Washington State to buy in on more takeaways in his first season, Alex Grinch lays out a new challenge to the Cougars: “find a way to make another play.’

Share story

LEWISTON, Idaho — In the first year of the Alex Grinch regime, the Washington State defensive coordinator’s mantra – or perhaps, directive – for his squad was that it needed to get two takeaways per game.

Actually, according to cornerback Darrien Molton, Grinch conducted his own unofficial study in the preseason to see whether turnovers forced would be proportional to wins. The results proved prophetic.

“Everything Grinch says is completely true because like last year, before the season even started, he said he wanted 24 takeaways and that he did a study and 24 takeaways equals nine wins,” Molton said. “And he was right.”

The Cougars finished the year with 24 takeaways and they won nine games.

That sort of prescience will just about guarantee any coach complete buy-in from his team, and that’s exactly what Grinch has accomplished as he enters his second season as the mastermind of the WSU defense

This year, Grinch’s mantra for the defense is “find a way to make another play.”

“That’s one of our themes this year,” Grinch said at WSU fall camp practice this week. “If every single guy on the defense – and hopefully we’re able to play 22 guys – were each able to find one more play to the play they made a year ago, each week you’re going to be that much more successful.”

The defense has absorbed Grinch’s new directive and hopes to rise to the challenge. Senior nickelback Parker Henry says it makes the players feel more accountable to one another.

“When you’re out there and he’s preaching it and we’ve got other guys on the team saying ‘one more play, one more play’ you kinda think to yourself, ‘Have I made that one more play?’ ” Henry said. “It kinda refocuses you and makes you lock in that much more because you don’t want to be that one guy on the team that does not make that one play.”

New defensive mantra aside, Grinch says the basic tenets of good defense remain the same.

“The ingredients to playing winning football on defense are doing things in the red zone, finding ways to get off the field on third down and fighting for the football on every single snap from a takeaways standpoint,” Grinch said. “Those ingredients never change year in and year out.”

The difference, however, is that this year, the Cougs go into the season with a much better understanding of Grinch’s defense. They can now also focus on cranking up the tempo.

“The one thing we’re really placing emphasis on is speed,” Henry said. “Being as fast a defense as we can. Last year we wanted to make sure we got the schemes down.

“This year we do have more guys who’ve seen the field and been in the program, so I think that definitely allows us to play faster than last year.”

That emphasis on speed and accountability is on display everywhere during the Cougars’ practices. For one thing, the only acceptable way to move from one drill station to another is to run. On the first day of fall camp, when Grinch determined that his squad took too long to move from the offensive field to the one the defense typically practices on, he made them go back to where they started and run over again.

Later this week, the Cougars’ feisty defensive coordinator marched up to one of the defensive backs who’d just given up a touchdown in a 7-on-7 drill and gave him a talking-to.

“That ‘my bad I just gave up a touchdown’ stuff? That ain’t gonna work here,” Grinch said sternly, adding that if the player didn’t “clean it up” he’d be demoted from the starting lineup.

Grinch makes no secret of the fact that he expects a lot out of his players, and if last year was any indication, the Cougars have risen to the challenge. This defense believes in itself now, and that alone makes Grinch’s job much easier in his second season.

“A year ago this time, we were trying to convince them that it’s not OK to give up touchdowns,” Grinch said. “That’s a pretty low standard. Now we can actually talk about footwork, eyes and visual techniques that tie into each coverage. There’s a comfort level for us coaches with the players in terms of (our) expectations.

“You have a little more trust in them that way, and that’s a big deal because it allows you to get a little more into some of the details of technique and fundamentals as opposed to trying to ride guys on every single play to ‘run to the ball.’ ”