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Preseason Opponent Preview: Washington State’s Offense

NCAA Football: Holiday Bowl-Washington State vs Michigan State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that Mike Leach is an offensive wizard. His air raid offense has helped groom top NCAA talent for decades, and entering his seventh season at Washington State, it appears Leach and co. have found a level of consistency in Pullman, finishing no worse than 8-5 since 2015, quickly turning around a rocky start to his tenure. However, a dramatic off-season has left the “Pullman Pirate” searching for answers as the 2018 season approaches.

​The Washington State community was shocked when presumed starting quarterback Tyler Hilinski took his own life earlier this year. The tragic event left a power vacuum in Pullman with no clear-cut candidate in place to take over the offense. Enter graduate transfer Gardner Minshew. The former East Carolina Pirate is the only quarterback currently on the roster who has taken a snap at the FBS level, but continues to compete for the starting spot against redshirt juniors Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon. To complicate the quarterback search even further, true freshman Cammon Cooper out of Lehi, UT also entered the already crowded race early last week, though it seems unlikely he will seriously contend.

​Regardless of who takes the reigns behind center, he’ll have a stable of proven receivers to pass to, including senior, Kyle Sweet. The 6’0”, 190 lb athlete averaged 9.2 yards per catch on 58 receptions last season, but will likely be leaned on more heavily in the absence of former stand-outs Isaiah Johnson-Mack and Tavares Martin Jr.

​Joining Sweet downfield is sophomore Renard Bell. Though slightly undersized at 5’8”, 162 lbs, Bell managed to accumulate 538 receiving yards last season, five more total than Sweet, with 18 less receptions than his veteran teammate, averaging 13.5 yards per catch. Bell could be one of the breakout offensive players in the PAC-12 this season, building on an already impressive freshman year.

​One area of concern for Washington State’s offense last season was turnovers, and in order to be successful in 2018, Leach will need to remedy this growing situation sooner rather than later. The Cougars turned the ball over a staggering 31 times in 2017, almost doubling 2016’s total of 17. Considering a relatively new-look offense is coming in, this will be an interesting stat to follow as the season progresses.

​Wazzu is in a tough spot; they aren’t exactly rebuilding from the ground up, but its hard to imagine the Cougars breaking through the North with the top-tier teams seemingly head and shoulders above them at this stage.