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Oregon Football

2020 Season Preview: Washington State Defense

October 30, 2020

Washington State hopes its defense is rejuvenated under new coordinator Jake Dickert. Dickert was at Wyoming for the past three seasons, and he quickly turned around the Cowboys' defense.

The Cougars, on the other hand, lagged in many defensive metrics. They allowed 32.6 points per game (91st in the nation) and 460.6 yards overall (109th). The unit just didn't produce results with any consistency.

But as with the WSU offense, the defensive staff has undergone a complete overhaul. And that gives Cougar fans reason for optimism.

Jahad Woods (13), senior linebacker

Woods was all over the field last season; his 141 tackles almost doubled any one else's. He also had 3 sacks, 3 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception.

Woods anchored the defense last year, and he’ll shoulder a big responsibility again in 2020.

Skyler Thomas (5), redshirt senior defensive back

Thomas led the team in interceptions with 4, and he had 72 tackles and 3 pass deflections. The 5-9 defensive back is one of the few veterans on this roster, and Dickert will surely be expecting him to step up as a leader once again.

Will Rodgers III (92), senior defensive end

Rodgers led the team in sacks last season with 4, and he’ll need to continue elevating his game if this defensive line is to excel. He also had 4 sacks as a sophomore.

Top Recruits

Alphonse Oywak (19)

The 6-1, 175-pound corner was the Cougars' top defensive recruit from last cycle. Oywak was the nation's 48th overall cornerback, and he could have a chance to come in and make an immediate impact.

The Cougars have some playing time available at the position, so it’ll be interesting to see if the lengthy Oywak can get into the mix. Other offers: Arizona, Oregon State, Boise State, Air Force, Nevada.

Fa’alili Fa’amoe (29)

The 6-5, 216-pound defensive end is an intriguing prospect.

Fa'amoe committed to the Cougars at the end of the cycle after receiving an offer only from Hawaii. He was the nation's 64th-ranked strong-side defensive end.

Fa'amoe certainly has the length that is coveted in that position, but he doesn’t have the weight and muscle just yet. He might not break into the rotation this year, but he’s definitely a name to watch for moving forward.

Moon Ashby (49)

The 6-4, 200-pound outside linebacker is a versatile player who could end up playing a couple of different roles.

Most likely, Ashby will end up as a stand-up edge rusher who sees more playing time if he’s able to improve his coverage skills. He’s long and lanky, but he doesn’t yet have the strength to match up against Pac-12 tackles.

The Cougars have some depth at outside linebacker, but there’s a chance Ashby could find work if he continues to get stronger. Other offers: Kansas State, Fresno State, San Jose State, Utah State.

The Bottom Line

The defense has holes all over, and it’ll be up to Dickert to start plugging them.

One of the biggest problems for this unit in 2019 was its inability to pressure the quarterback. Now, recording sacks can be a bit fluky, but this unit really struggled to make quarterbacks uncomfortable.

Admittedly, the secondary also struggled, but it can be difficult to cover receivers for upwards of five seconds on every pass. If the defensive line is able to step up, I would expect the secondary to do the same.

To help remedy the secondary issues, the focus in last recruiting cycle was getting guys who are tall and lengthy. The Cougars landed numerous prospects who were 6-1 or taller and had long wing spans.

Overall, this unit isn’t set up for a ton of success, but it can be tough to judge a defense when there’s a new coordinator in town. Small steps in the right direction in numerous defensive categories would be a major win for this Cougars.

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