WSU’s rapid improvement in defense will be measured by Oregon State’s ground play
PULLMAN – The most impressive quality of this Washington state defense, according to Jake Dickert, is how quickly it has adapted.
“The most important thing, and I constantly remind people: This last game was Game 9 together – not even a full season in this defense,” said the second-year defensive coordinator, who didn’t have enough time to fully install its system during the 2020 campaign impacted by the coronavirus.
When asked to assess WSU’s progress as a defensive unit, Dickert first praised the group’s mature character, cohesion and dedication. The intangibles of the veterans were essential as they absorbed the strategies of former Wyoming DC and now find themselves playing their best ball in recent memory.
“I think there’s a belief in our guys that’s really, really strong,” Dickert said after practice Tuesday at Rogers Field. “I think the culture is really, really strong. I think our body language and our mindset – even in the face of adversity – is really, really strong. So I think our leadership has improved.
“We have a bunch of guys who want to work hard and do it right. “
Following her most convincing performance in four years, WSU’s defense will be measured when it meets the powerful Oregon State ground game on Saturday at Gesa Field.
The Cougars (2-3, 1-2 Pac-12) held back Cal’s usually productive offense last weekend at Berkeley, now the Golden Bears to six points – the fewest WSU made in a game of Pac-12 since a Colorado shutout in 2017.
WSU’s offense went dormant late in the game, but his defense never lost the rebound after allowing a touchdown in Cal’s first set. The Cougars forced seven punts, limited the Bears’ big plays and quashed a few comeback rumbles in the second half.
They totaled four sacks and always had uncomfortable Cal Chase Garbers quarterback in his pocket.
“I would say last week was our most disruptive week,” Dickert said. “Not just bags. Everyone is still looking at the bags category, but for me these are hits, it’s a disruption. Are we moving the pocket? Are we confusing the quarterback up there? How much do we affect it? It was a great mix and we made great strides. “
WSU head coach Nick Rolovich praised the “collective effort” of the defense throughout the game, grateful to Dickert for having managed to install a set of standards that were “absorbed by the players. “.
“Their expectations of themselves are high and they played like that,” Rolovich said. “The defense had a pretty impressive performance – how hard they played. (Linebacker) Justus Rogers looked like an inspired gamer, all edges made games. … It was fun to be there in person, but it was also great to watch on film.
WSU composed some exotic looks. He occasionally bombarded linebackers and a nickel while bringing the edge rushers back into cover. The Cougars were once again effective when they drew a four-edged defensive line in passing.
Their most productive four-tack set had Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson – the starting WSU rushers – lined up opposite the guards, while Andrew Edson and Willie Taylor III occupied the ends.
Cal converted 3 of 15 third tries. On average, he faced third and nine.
“You want to bring your best guys (on the third and long) and we feel like we have four guys who can do it from multiple positions,” Dickert said. “It’s a unique skill set to have RJ (Stone) and BJ (Jackson) rushing in, and it’s a whole different feeling for these guards and centers.
“I think we’re athletic enough to move on to cover and do different things, probably things that we wanted to achieve in the first three or four (games). We haven’t used it enough.
Dickert said he used this speed-focused training on each of his training stops. Pac-12 infractions slow down more often these days, so he’s been able to send four edges frequently since taking the job at Pullman.
“A lot of times with tempo teams you can’t do it,” he said. “Our league is a little tighter, a little slower now. This allows us to wrap it up a bit, but we have to be prepared as it continues to be used. The teams will start to change the tempos.
WSU will likely have to play with more power than speed when the Beavers come to town. OSU is racking up 229.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks first in the Pac-12 and 15th nationally. The Beavers, who also punctuate the conference in terms of scoring average (36 points per game), crushed USC and Washington to the ground with a power play that often flows between tackles. OSU ran the ball 50 times against the Huskies.
“We had the No.1 offense coming and the No.1 team on the ground, but I think our defense is in a frame of mind where it would be something they wouldn’t be afraid of,” he said. Rolovich said.
For WSU, the focus is on containing running play on the first and second downs, forcing the Beavers to look to their game manager quarterback Chance Nolan, who completed 7 of 15 assists for 48 yards last weekend.
OSU leads the Pac-12 in terms of third down conversion rate at 52%, as it usually leads 4 or 5 meters on first downs.
“They do what they do probably better than anyone, and they don’t apologize for it,” Dickert said. “It’s old school, throw the ball.” Five yards and 5 yards, and you add up a bunch of 5 yards and that equates to a lot of first tries.
“It’s football that I know, but our guys don’t know it. It’s going to take a bit of physics. We will have to put them behind the sticks, put them in overtaking situations. You have to start upstream.
The Cougars’ defensive tackles will be even more on the shoulder. Dickert was pleased with their technical progress. Amir Mujahid, in particular, “really stood out and did great things,” Dickert said.
He called Tuesday’s session “one of our most physical screening practices we’ve had.”
“Sometimes I had to go, ‘Whoa’,” he said. “Our guys understand what it takes to perform well on Saturday, and it’s going to start up front.
The Cougars have become adept at forcing turnovers – they rank 12th nationally with 11 takeaways. They are better tacklers in space than in previous years and their front has improved their thrust.
The WSU defense has allowed just two touchdowns in three of four FBS games this year. Bolstered by the pass rush, the WSU secondary held the last two QBs he faced under 200 yards with a combined 51% completion rate.
The Cougars’ defensive backs made several head-to-head saves in the open field in completed checks against Cal.
“These guys just keep getting better,” said Dickert, pointing to George Hicks III for his smooth transition from the turn to the safety. Senior corner Jaylen Watson recorded his first pick of the year and did not allow Cal a reception, and fellow senior CB Derrick Langford Jr. “had his best game,” Dickert said.
“It was good to see these guys break balls, keep the ball in front, because it’s an explosive attack. We achieved all of our goals with (limiting) explosives.
Linebacker Jahad Woods, the WSU’s most seasoned player on an experienced defense, attributes much of the defensive growth to “smoother” communication in Dickert’s 4-2-5 system.
“We don’t need superheroes, we don’t need anybody to make extra plays,” said Woods, who passed WSU great Peyton Pelluer on Saturday for fifth on everyone’s tackle list. the times of the Cougars. “We just need everyone to do their job, and once everyone is on the same page, it works.”