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Washington State are riding their defense and a walk-on QB into a playoff bid

College football fans have stopped asking whether or not Washington State are contenders; they're now wondering just how deep they can go.

The state of Washington is the king of the Pac-12 in 2017, if not one of the kings of college football. 

While the Washington Huskies were always fancied as potential College Football Playoff candidates after they appeared in the tournament last year, the 6-0 Washington State Cougars are perhaps drawing most attention.

After their upset win over the #5 Trojans in Pullman, Washington State rose to #8 in the rankings, which is their highest mark since 2001 – the last time they started 7-0.

That year, they finished 10-2, winning the Sun Bowl against Purdue, but this year, their eyes are on a far greater prize.

Unsurprisingly, WSU are strong on both sides of the ball, with a versatile and productive defense orchestrated by coordinator Alex Grinch, and a varied passing attacking helmed by quarterback Luke Falk.

With Mike Leach running the show at Wazzu, he will always require a highly capable defensive coordinator, and Grinch’s table-setting D has provided Falk and his HC the platform to win games through the air.

Development on D

The Cougars measure up in a fair amount of defensive metrics this year. They allow just 18.5 points per game, with their opposition converting only 24.7% of third downs.

Interior presences include lineman Hercules Mata’afa (10 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) and linebacker Frankie Luvu (6.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks), the latter having been moved from the inside to outside. 

They’re also 11th nationally in total defense, giving up 275.5 yards per game, but if you’re looking for the standout statistic underpinning this team’s success, it’s the takeaways they’re able to generate.

Starting safeties Robert Taylor and Jalen Thompson are both former cornerbacks, which speaks to Grinch’s ability to develop his players. They lead their team in interceptions, with two and three respectively, out of the team total of 13. Under Grinch’s leadership, when Washington State generates at least two interceptions in a game, they’re 18-3.

Walk-on wonder

Admittedly, it is a very cosy situation in which Falk needs to fit, but does not nearly begin to diminish this former walk-on’s achievements, as he strives to break nearly every passing record in the conference. 

Remember, Falk came to WSU with no scholarship offer, yet through his six wins this season, has thrown for over 2,000 yards, 19 touchdowns, and only two interceptions, all the while completing 71.8% of his passes.

Granted, the air raid offense has fit Falk’s game of short passes and minimal running well. Wazzu average 392 yards per game, and with eight players having at least 10 receptions, their running backs are as deadly as receivers in front of the line.

It’s a variation other Pac-12 teams are finding hard to defend, and there’s no question the Cougars can build a resume easily good enough for the CFP, but if they get there, is it enough to win?

They will have to put away the Golden Bears at home this week in fairly convincing fashion to keep it up, but given their record against other highly fancied teams (30-27 vs Southern California, 33-10 vs Oregon), their game plan can hold up.

The final three matches of their season against Stanford, at Utah and at Washington will go a long way to finding out whether this team is for real or not, and we can’t wait.

How far do you think Washington State can go this season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Myles Stedman

Journalist at Rugby.com.au. NEAFL media team. Contributor at Zero Tackle, Green and Gold Rugby, 16 Wins a Ring, The Sixer Sense via FanSided, Last Word on Hockey and cover32.

Washington State are riding their defense and a walk-on QB into a playoff bid

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