Depleted Cougars to bowl against hot Bulldogs

Cougs to face Bulldogs without key receivers, linebackers

WSU+wide+receiver+Lincoln+Victor+jumps+for+a+pass+during+an+NCAA+football+game+against+Colorado+State%2C+Sep.+17.

HAILEE SPEIR

WSU wide receiver Lincoln Victor jumps for a pass during an NCAA football game against Colorado State, Sep. 17.

BEAU BRADEN

The WSU Cougars (7-5) have until Dec. 17, to find answers at crucial positions because of several key players entering the transfer portal before they play the Fresno State Bulldogs (9-4) in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl.

Twelve WSU football team members entered their names into the NCAA transfer portal since it officially opened Monday.

Two of the biggest names leaving WSU are wide receivers and two-year starters Donovan Ollie and De’Zhaun Stribling.

Quarterback Cam Ward targeted Ollie and Stribling on 26% of his passing attempts in 2022.

With seventh-year senior slot, Renard Bell expected to miss, WSU will be without three receivers who accounted for 10 touchdowns and nearly 1,500 receiving yards this season.

Ward and the Cougars will need players like Nakia Watson, Lincoln Victor and Robert Ferrel to carry greater loads, as the combination of Ollie, Stribling and Bell averaged 15 targets and 117 yards per game.

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, Coug fans, exhale. 13 receivers not named Ollie, Stribling or Bell accounted for more than half of WSU’s 3,162 passing yards and eight different receivers caught touchdowns in 2022.

Plus, the run game, led by Watson and Jaylen Jenkins, is excellent compared to recent years. Both backs average more than 5 yards per carry and WSU has 16 rushing touchdowns on the season.

The losses on the defensive side of the ball could raise more severe issues, however.

Eight of the 11 Cougars who entered the transfer portal are defenders. Those eight played under defensive coordinator Brian Ward and edges coach A.J. Cooper, who both accepted jobs at Arizona State following their Apple Cup loss.

Of the departing defenders are linebackers Francisco Mauigoa and Travion Brown. In 2022 the two combined for 109 tackles, five sacks and one 95-yard Mauigoa pick-six.

The Cougs will likely look to redshirt sophomore Kyle Thornton and Hudson Cedarland, a true freshman from Gig Harbor, to fill the roles of Mauigoa and Brown against Fresno State.

Although for Cougar veterans, situations like these are nothing new.

Sixth-year seniors Armani Marsh and Christian Mejia have had three different head coaches and five different defensive coordinators since their freshman year at WSU in 2017.

The Cougs’ ability to stay focused through adversity will determine their performance against a Fresno State team coming off a Mountain West Conference Championship victory.

Fresno State quarterback Jake Haener and the Bulldogs are hot; eight straight wins hot.

The Bulldogs are Pro Football Focus’ No. 15 passing offense out of 131 FBS teams, but when Haener is under pressure, he completes just 52% of his passes; this number goes down even further when the pressure comes without a blitz.

With Fresno State’s passing efficiency and WSU’s losses at linebacker, defensive line play is vital for the Cougs.

If the WSU defensive line can create enough pressure to allow 1st Team All-PAC-12 linebacker Daiyan Henley to play freely and get Haener to release the ball early, the Cougars have a chance to pull the upset in Inglewood.