For many years, the Washington State football team gained national attention for its offense, specifically a passing attack under former coach Mike Leach that was either the most productive in the country or close to it.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some good defenses at WSU — it was particularly good in 2018 when WSU finished 11-2 — but the offense got the headlines.
Could that be changing?
Certainly, the defense was the story in last week’s 21-6 win at California, when the Cougars shut down a Golden Bears offense that had been playing well.
And if the Cougars are going to win Saturday against visiting Oregon State, the Pac-12 North leader, they will need another great defensive effort.
That’s because coach Nick Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense, which has no doubt been affected by injuries at quarterback, has yet to take off.
The WSU defense, which has played well in spurts this season, put everything together against Cal, allowing the Cougars (2-3) to snap a two-game losing streak and to halt a disturbing trend of blowing second-half leads.
“That was quite an impressive performance — the way they played, how hard they played,” Rolovich said Monday. “The collective effort throughout the game — it was great to be there in person — but it was really enjoyable to watch on film.”
Washington State held Cal to season lows for points and yards (273), but now comes a bigger challenge against the Beavers (4-1), who have won four consecutive games and lead the Pac-12 in scoring at 36 points per game.
Oregon State, coached by former Washington assistant Jonathan Smith, also leads the conference in rushing (229.2 yards per game) and is third in yards per game (436.8)
“I think Coach Smith deserves a ton of credit,” Rolovich said of the former Beavers quarterback who is his fourth season as the team’s coach. “He has stayed the course. He has had ups and downs in building his program. I think he’s an excellent situational X’s and O’s coach. … The offense is very good, but I think they are also tightening it up this year on defense.”
Rolovich talked about how the Beavers are playing with confidence. The WSU defense should also be confident after its effort last weekend.
“Last week was by far our most disruptive week, and not just sacks (four),” WSU defensive coordinator Jake Dickert said. “Everybody always looks at the sacks category, but to me it’s hits, it’s disruptions, are we moving the pockets, are we creating confusion with the quarterback. How much are we affecting him? We made great strides on Saturday. That needs to continue.”
The Cougars’ 21 points Saturday were their most in three weeks. Rolovich said he liked the mindset of sophomore quarterback Jayden de Laura, who returned from a knee injury and played the whole game.
Rolovich said de Laura will continue to start, but the coach still wants more production.
“I just think we can take another step and get more explosive plays and be more detailed and execute cleaner,” Rolovich said.
Rolovich had no such issues with the defense last week, saying the players have absorbed Dickert and his staff’s standards.
“So I think their expectation of themselves is high and they played like it,” Rolovich said. “We need to keep pushing the offense to get more points on the board and not turn the ball over as much. I think that would help us.
“The defense, it’s going to be a big challenge for them (against Oregon State). But I think they’re in a mindset where they are not going to be afraid of that.”