Washington State is a program on solid ground going into 2020 under new coach Nick Rolovich. The Cougars finished Mike Leach's tenure with five consecutive bowl appearances, and Rolovich returns a good foundation to push for another postseason trip in 2020. Transitioning from Leach's Air Raid to Rolovich's Run-and-Shoot will require a little transition, but Washington State won't slip too far in the win column next fall.
For every new coach, the to-do list after the initial press conference is pretty standard. The head coach has to recruit, implement scheme changes, build a staff of quality assistants and coordinators, discuss potential NFL Draft impact with juniors and work on any facility or support staff requests. Needless to say, that’s a lot.
While every coach has those goals in mind, it’s never too early to look at some of the personnel concerns surrounding a program and a new coach for the upcoming year.
Here’s an early look at three personnel question marks for Rolovich to address in 2020:
3 Priorities for New Washington State Coach Nick Rolovich in 2020
1. Find a Quarterback
Zero. That’s the amount of pass attempts returning quarterbacks at Washington State attempted in a game in 2019. Anthony Gordon, Gage Gubrud and Trey Tinsley each completed their eligibility following the Cheez-It Bowl loss to Air Force. The cupboard isn’t totally bare for new coach Nick Rolovich, however. Cammon Cooper – a four-star recruit in the 2018 signing class – and Gunner Cruz – a three-star prospect in 2018 – are primed to battle for the starting job. Additionally, incoming freshman Jayden de Laura – a native of Hawaii – was offered by Rolovich in Honolulu. The Cougars have good candidates to run the Run-and-Shoot attack but experience is lacking. This should be an entertaining battle to follow this offseason.
2. Find Some Answers on Defense
Washington State’s defense has been trending in the wrong direction since it held teams to 5.1 yards a play in 2017. The Cougars gave up 5.6 in ’18 and 6.64 last season. Additionally, this group allowed over 30 points (31.4) a contest, ranked last in the Pac-12 in rush defense (185.5 ypg), generated only 23 sacks and surrendered 17 plays of 40 yards or more. This group has plenty of room to improve under the new staff and there’s experience coming back at linebacker and in the secondary to help with the transition. The line is losing three players in the rotation and will be an immediate focal point for the new staff.
3. Restock the Offensive Line
Running back Max Borghi should be one of the Pac-12’s top all-around players next season, and there are plenty of options coming back at receiver. With the uncertainty at quarterback, shoring up the offensive line will be a priority. The Cougars allowed only 20 sacks last season and return one of the Pac-12’s top linemen in Abraham Lucas. However, guard Robert Valencia and center Frederick Mauigoa are both out of eligibility. That leaves two spots up for grabs for a group that has a good foundation in place with the returning starters.