Boobie leads dangerous running back trio for WSU

James “Boobie” Williams is the most explosive member of WSU’s running back trio. Their arrival last season was a huge difference for the offense last season.

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Photo Credit: Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review

The 2016 was season was a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of season for the Cougs as they started off the season with two straight losses, ran off eight straight wins, before closing out the season by losing three straight. Washington State finished the season with a 8-5 (7-2) record.

Eastern Washington became the second straight Big Sky program to upend WSU to start the season; then the Cougs followed that up with a clunker of a game in Boise that dropped them to 0-2. In the third game of the season, running back James “Boobie” Williams ran wild in a blowout win over Idaho and the Cougars would go onto win seven of the next eight games in dominating fashion — the closest game would be Oregon State, but the Cougs managed to hold on for the win.

After that fun eight game winning streak, the Cougars would go onto get beat by Colorado and Washington in their final two regular season games (and neither game was particularly close). Washington State followed up those two losses with a sloppy, and listless loss in the Holiday Bowl to a Minnesota squad that had just lost its head coach and half of its secondary in the week leading up to the game.

Heading into 2017, the offensive line and running backs have the most depth and experience — back-up quarterback Tyler Hilinski has seen very little playing time. Which means that Washington State’s offense should be just as explosive as it was last season, despite losing Gabe Marks and River Cracraft to graduation.

Defensive stats and preview

Yards Per Play Touchdowns Per Game Pac-12 Rank
Rushing 4.08 1.6 5th
Passing 7.9 1.5 11th

Washington State’s defense got torched at times last season. Alex Grinch’s “Speed D” really struggled with teams that could stretch the field vertically, especially if these teams had a decent rushing attack. The team’s young secondary was often fell for the fake handoff last season; while that wasn’t a problem against teams that couldn’t stretch the field, it cost them against the explosive arms of Brett Rypien and Jake Browning. This season the secondary will be more experienced and should be better at handling the play action pass.

Credit: UW DawgPound

Watch how the linebackers and defensive line move to shut down the running lanes, but the secondary stays with their men. Because the defensive backs were able to stay home, and not fall for the poorly executed fake handoff, cornerback Marcellus Pippins and Saftey Shalom Luani were in position to blow up the play — side note, it’s going to be really hard for the defense to replace Luani. Despite losing Luani, the defensive backfield is returning three of its four starters, including Pippins. This will arguably the most secondary that Washington State has had under Mike Leach, and it could be one of his best…depending on the pressure the defensive line is able to generate.

With the departure of Ngalu Tapa in July, Grinch doesn’t have a true nose tackle for his defense and that’s going to cause problems for a defensive line that was able to generate pressure last season; but seldom got all the way home to the quarterback. Tapa’s departure is probably going to force Daniel Ekuale into the tackle spot for the majority of his snaps this season, which means that WSU is going to be running a tighter rotation which will stretch the line’s depth.

As for the linebacker corps, this group has a lot of experience and a bunch of solid to good players…but no one that will really wow you with their athleticism. Peyton Pelluer is the name to watch out for, he’s been a really good at containing the run and is able to shut down most of the tight ends that the Cougars will face throughout the season.

Offensive stats and preview

Yards Per Play Touchdowns Per Game Pac-12 Rank
Rushing 4.31 1.8 9th
Passing 7.1 3.1 T-7th

While Luke Falk is a great quarterback (he’s going to hold most of WSU’s passing records at the end of his career), the biggest reason Washington State’s offense was so explosive last season was the emergence of the running backs…especially Boobie.

 

Credit: CougCenter

Williams ability to shift from one foot to the other and maintain his speed is what makes him such a dynamic threat out of the backfield; as you can see in the above video. But Williams isn’t the only running back as there is also Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks. Morrow provides the speed and Wicks is the bulldozer out of the backfield. While these running backs don’t carry the ball that much (the Cougs averaged 27.7 carries out of 78.8 plays per game) all three backs are still heavily involved in the offense, but as receivers.

The offensive line is going to be another strength for Leach’s offense, especially since the two starting tackles are highly regarded by Pro Football Focus. Cole Madison and Andre Dillard are too excellent tackles, and they’ve done a fantastic of keeping Falk up right, but the biggest name on the offensive line is Cody O’Connell. The only question about the offensive line is how well center will be filled.

As for the wide receiver corps, Falk will have Tavares Martin Jr. as his top target this season — Martin caught 64 passes for 728 yards, averaging 11.4 yards per catch, in 2016 — and Kyle Sweet — whom filled in for the injured Cracraft. While replacing Marks and Cracraft is going to be difficult, because of the experience at quarterback, offensive line, and running back it’s hard to see the offensive production taking a serious dip this season.

Schedule

The schedule opens up with five straight home games, including two conference games, and three nationally broadcast games. Washington State will be looking to avoid its third straight loss to a Big Sky program in the opener on FS1 and then follows that up with another night game against the high powered Broncos. Oregon State and Nevada should be winnable games before the always hyped Trojans come to town for a Friday night showdown.

Oregon and Cal are breaking in new coaching staffs with new offensive and defensive schemes so there is potential there for WSU to pick up some big wins if the offense and defense are firing on all cylinders…or it could be a chance for some embarrassing losses as both programs are looking for revenge after the last two seasons.

Outside of the Arizona game, the half of the schedule is going to be the toughest going forward. Even though Utah is the least experienced team the WSU plays at the end of the season, traveling to Salt Lake City is never easy. Stanford is going to be good this year, but their defensive line should struggle to get pressure on Falk; the Apple Cup is probably going to be another disaster.

Saturday
Sep. 2
Bobcats Montana State Bobcats 
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
7:30pm PT
FS1
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 9
Broncos Boise State Broncos 
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
7:30pm PT
ESPN/2/U TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 16
Beavers Oregon State Beavers 
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
2:30pm PT
Pac-12N
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Sep. 23
Wolf Pack Nevada Wolf Pack 
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Friday
Sep. 29
Trojans USC Trojans 
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
7:30pm PT
ESPN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 7
Ducks at Oregon Ducks 
Autzen Stadium, Eugene, OR
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Friday
Oct. 13
Golden Bears at California Golden Bears 
California Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
7:30pm PT
ESPN
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 21
Buffaloes Colorado Buffaloes (HC)
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Oct. 28
Wildcats at Arizona Wildcats 
Arizona Stadium, Tucson, AZ
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 4
Cardinal Stanford Cardinal 
Martin Stadium, Pullman, WA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 11
Utes at Utah Utes 
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets
Saturday
Nov. 18
OFF
Saturday
Nov. 25
Huskies at Washington Huskies 
Husky Stadium, Seattle, WA
Time TBA
TV TBA
Buy
Tickets

Prediction

Washington State puts an end to its woes against Big Sky teams and beats up the Bobcats while getting some more experience for the defensive line…which is going to need it against Boise State. Despite the back and forth nature of the first three quarters, the Cougs will shut out the Broncos in the final frame while scoring a couple of times to pick up their second victory of the year. After beating up on the Beavers and Wolfpack, WSU will be 4-0 heading into the USC game.

Falk will tear up the experienced secondary, especially since there is issues regarding the depth of USC’s defensive line. But the Trojans own offensive firepower will be too much and the Cougars will drop their first game of the season.

Oregon’s offensive talent gives the Cougar defense some fits, but getting used to the new schemes leads to several false starts; on defense, the Ducks still can’t handle the three different style of running backs that WSU has and the Cougars pull away in a shootout. As for Cal, the Golden Bears offense won’t be able to keep up as they’re learning Beau Baldwin’s new offensive schemes.

Colorado, Utah, and Washington will prove to be too much for WSU down the stretch. All three of those teams are returning a lot of talent on the offensive and defensive lines and that’ll cause problems for the thinly stretched defensive line. Fortunately the Cougars will get a slight break from the onslaught in the trenches as Stanford comes to town before the Utah game; the defensive line issues for Stanford will give the Williams, Wicks, and Morrow space to work and Falk time to make his reads.

The Cougars will go 8-4 (5-4) to get to their third straight bowl game.

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