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Opponent Preview: Washington State Defense

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NCAA Football: UCLA at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Things haven’t been the same since former defensive coordinator, Alex Grinch, left Pullman, WA for greener pastures. In his three years with the Cougars, he took one of the worst defenses in the PAC-12, and turned them around to a competitive, nationally ranked unit that was able to compliment the high-octane offense that Mike Leach is famous for. Finishing 42nd in overall defense in 2018, the Cougars currently sit at 83rd nationally for total defense, allowing 28.8 points per game, and 4.5 yards per rushing attempt. This is the same defense that allowed the previously winless UCLA Bruins to crawl back from a 17-49 deficit late in the third quarter last week, eventually losing 67-63, in what would become third biggest collapse in college football history. Whether or not Utah’s potentially fractured offense is able to replicate that same level of success that Chip Kelly’s Bruins squad was able to muster is yet to be seen.

​A successful Washington State defense starts with junior linebacker, Jahad Woods. At 6’1”, 228 lbs, Woods is a dominant force when it comes to limiting opponents rushing yards, but has also contributed to the pass defense more than anyone else, deflecting three passes thus far, while also racking up a solo sack and a forced fumble along the way. As a relative swiss army knife on the defensive side of the ball, Woods is a force to keep on eye on come Saturday night.

​Further downfield, WSU’s secondary hasn’t exactly racked up anything impressive through four weeks, with senior corner Marcus Strong (5’10”, 185 lbs) and junior safety Skyler Thomas (5’9”, 185 lbs) each claiming one interception, and only Thomas recording a pass deflection this season. Junior safety, Bryce Beekman may be the most threatening athlete in the Cougars secondary, racking up 28 total tackles (second on the team behind Woods’ 36), and helping to limit big plays deep.

​Though not the worst defense in the conference (far from in fact, with Stanford [87], Oregon State [92], Colorado [97], Arizona [105], and UCLA [122] all statistically worse than the Cougars), facing this Washington State unit when Utah’s offense is possibly without some it’s key players, is a big opportunity that the Utes will need to capitalize on if they want to reestablish themselves as the kings of the conference.