This is a series of in depth looks at the opponents the Utah State football team will be facing this season. The series will use Athlon Sports Top 130 pre-season rankings to consider where opponents are at on a national level and each week will preview a different opponent.
Week 1: Washington State (September 4th)
Record in 2020: 1-3
Record in 2019: 6-7 (3-6)
Record vs USU: 2-1
Athlon Ranking: 68th
Key Loses: Josh Watson (guard), Oscar Draguicevich III (punter), Davontavean Martin (wide receiver), Tyrese Ross and Ayden Hector (transferred).
Key Players Back: Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh (running backs), Jayden de Laura (quarterback), Calvin Jackson Jr. (wide receiver), Jahad Woods (linebacker), Jaylen Watson defensive back), Daniel Isom (defensive back) and Brennan Jackson (edge).
The most points that Washington State scored last season was 38 in their lone win against Oregon State. The Cougars averaged 27 points per game last season and in 2019 they averaged 27 points per game. One of the big contributing factors to Washington State’s struggle last season was the addition of new head coach Nick Rolovich and the instillation of a new offense. The Cougars return a starting quarterback for the first time in a while in Jayden de Laura and also bring back significant depth at running back with Max Borghi and Deon McIntosh. Borghi ran for 95 yards on 10 attempts in 2020, averaging 9.5 yards and scoring a touchdown. McIntosh went for 323 yards on 52 carries, averaging 6.2 yards and scoring three touchdowns. In 2019, Borghi went for 817 yards on 127 carries, averaging 6.4 yards per carry and scoring 11 touchdowns while McIntosh ran for 111 yards on 16 carries, averaging 6.9 yards per carry while also scoring a touchdown. The Cougs loose depth at wide receiver, but the talent at running back should help make up for that.
Washington State ranked 71st in third down conversions in 2020, converting 20 first downs out of 51 attempted, which was good for 39.2%. Looking at pass percentage, Washington State ranked 52nd, completing 94 passes out of the 152 attempted, which is a completion rate of 61.8%. Washington State was tied for 19th for turnovers lost last season, losing four fumbles and four interceptions. For total offense, Washington State ranked 75th, averaging 384 yards per game and scoring 14 touchdowns.
Yes, Washington State only played four games last season but those numbers have to improve. 384 yards per game wasn’t too bad but 14 touchdowns (98 points) through four games in todays offensive minded age isn’t going to provide a lot of great opportunities to win games. One name to keep an eye on for the receivers is Senior Travell Harris, who led the receivers last year with 29 receptions, 340 yards, and two touchdowns. Graduate student Renard Bell had 337 yards receiving on 33 receptions and scored two touchdowns. Consistency will be key especially since the offense is still new so it will be interesting to see how the offense continues to develop during the offseason in preparation for the season.
This is where Washington State could be really good this season and it could really help them early in the season as they continue to figure out the offense. The Cougars bring back seven starters from last season to include Jahad Woods, Jaylen Watson, Daniel Isom, Brennan Jackson, and Armani Marsh. The secondary should be very solid next season for Washington State. Defensive back George Hicks III is another player to watch out for. He had 19 tackles (13 solo, six assist), two pass deflections, and a forced fumble. Jahad Woods is the only returning player to have an interception from last season so that is an area that the Cougars are going to need to improve in.
Looking at statistics, Washington State ranked 116th in the nation in third down defense, giving opponents 25 third on conversions on 52 attempts, which is a 48.1% conversion rate. In first down defense, Washington State ranked 9th allowing 93 total first downs. What this says is that Washington State was able to make stops on first downs but unable to stop teams from converting in later downs. Washington State really struggled in Red Zone defense during the 2020 season, where opponents had a 88.9% success rate and 16 scores, which ranked 102nd in the nation. The Cougars forced six total turnovers in 2020, which was ranked for 109th in the nation and allowed 307 passing yards per game and 11.92 yards per completion, which ranked 124th in the nation. Washington State was ranked 52nd in rushing defense, allowing 154.8 yards per game, 4.99 yards per rush, and nine rushing touchdowns. In total defense Washington State was 111th in the nation, allowing 461.8 yards per game.
Bringing back starters in the secondary is certainly going to help bring the numbers down in passing yards allowed and yards allowed per game. The defense really needs to aim its focus at creating turnovers. Only forcing eight turnovers really isn’t going to cut it because it just helps to extend drives for the opposing offense. There needs to be more consistency, especially in the later downs, to prevent big plays from happening.
Overall, Washington State should be better than last season and also better than the 2019 season with returning talent. They probably won’t be as good as the 2018 team that went 11-2 but they should be able to get to eight wins as they have win-able non conference and conference games at home. The offense should have a better handle after a year of breaking in while Utah State introduces a new head coach. I’d expect this game to be close in the beginning but Washington State will ultimately pull away in the end due to having more experience, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.