Washington State 2003 Football Outlook
Aug. 21, 2003
WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS
Overview: Longtime defensive coordinator Bill Doba takes over as head coach of a Washington State team coming off two straight 10-win seasons and a Rose Bowl berth last year. The Cougars have gone 20-5 over the last two years, including 13-3 in Pac-10 play. WSU loses some of the league's headliners from a year ago--quarterback Jason Gesser, the Pac-10 Co-Offensive Player of the Year, defensive tackle Rien Long, the Outland Trophy winner, and cornerback Marcus Trufant, the 11th player taken in the NFL draft. However, an experienced group of players returns, including 15 starters, and the Cougs have built up quality depth along both lines. The schedule does not provide an easy debut for Doba, as WSU will face off against nine bowl teams from a year ago. Included are road tests against the likes of Notre Dame, Colorado, Oregon, USC and Washington.
Offense: Washington State returns six starters to an offensive unit that averaged 421.9 yards and 33.2 points per game last year. The big question mark is how to replace longtime starting QB Jason Gesser. Gesser passed for 3,408 yards and 28 TDs last season and shared Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors with Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer of USC. Stepping in will be senior Matt Kegel, Gesser's backup the last couple years and the only returning signal-caller with any appreciable experience. Kegel comes off a solid spring and has Chris Hurd and Josh Swogger waiting in the wings should he falter. With inexperience at QB, the Cougars may rely more on the running game. Operating behind a good offensive line will be Jermaine Green, expected to be one of the top running backs in the league this season. In 2002, Green averaged 5.5 yards per carry while rushing for 829 yards and nine TDs, despite being slowed much of the year by injuries. While WSU loses receivers like Jerome Riley and Mike Bush, the Cougars always seem to have a stable of top-flight wideouts and 2003 should be no different. The headliner is returnee Devard Darling, who pulled in 54 balls for 800 yards and 11 TDs as a soph last season. Sammy Moore, the leading returning kickoff return man in the Pac-10 (25.6-yard average), could make his mark as a receiver, as well. The offensive line is a strength as four players with starting experience return, led by All-Pac-10 tackle Calvin Armstrong, a pre-season All-America candidate. Josh Parrish and Riley Fitt-Chappell have started at tackle, and can play guard, and Billy Knotts is back for his third season of starting at guard. Tackle Sam Lightbody is another experienced hand.
Defense: Washington State returns seven starters to what was one of the sturdier defenses in the Pac-10 last year. And despite losing Outland winner Rien Long and first-round draft pick Marcus Trufant, this unit figures to be the strength of the Cougar team. WSU led the Pac-10 in quarterback sacks the last two years and a veteran and deep defensive line should be one of the best in the league again in 2003. Veteran seniors Isaac Brown and D.D. Acholonu are back at end, augmented by up-and-comer Adam Braidwood. Inside at tackle, life is good with returning starter Jeremey Williams, a Pac-10 All-Academic selection last year, and vet Tai Tupai, who figures to take over for Long. At linebacker, Will Derting is a rising star and Pat Bennett and Al Genatone both have seen starting duty. Plus Aaron Wagner returns from a two-year Mormon mission and could step into a starting spot. Although Trufant is gone from the secondary, three starters return led by honors candidates Jason David and Erik Coleman. David led the Pac-10 in interceptions from his cornerback post last year with seven. Also returning is starting strong safety Virgil Williams. Cornerback Karl Paymah has some experience and could work his way into the starting lineup.
Kicking Game: Washington State is in great shape for kickers. Drew Dunning has been one of the Conference's best placekickers the last two years and was Pac-10 co-leader with 22 field goals made last year. Kyle Basler returns at punter after averaging 41.1 yards per boot as a freshman last year.
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