Report card: WSU's QB, D-line, special teams make the grade

Oct. 24—Last week, we graded the Cougars on a game-by-game basis. Now, we'll look at position grades as the Washington State football team limps into the second half of the season after its fantastic start.

The Cougars are 4-3 and 1-3 in Pac-12 play following their 38-24 loss to No. 9 Oregon on Saturday.

Quarterback: A

Quarterbacks get a lot of the glory when things go well and much of the blame when things go bad. That's been the case for WSU's Cam Ward, who has received his share of praise and hate.

Coach Jake Dickert thinks Ward isn't getting enough credit for his play, and I agree. The QB owns a 69.9 completion percentage, 316.71 passing yards per game and 15 touchdowns to just three interceptions. He has a knack for extending plays when the pocket collapses and his yards per game rank No. 8 in the NCAA. The Cougars would not have two top-25 wins without him.

Wide receivers/tight ends: A-

By far WSU's most-improved group this season. The addition of transfers Kyle Williams (38 catches, 549 yards) and Josh Kelly (32 catches, 433 yards), plus a career-best season for slot wideout Lincoln Victor (44 catches, 522 yards) have the Cougs headed in the right direction in the passing game. Now they just need to find some consistency and get one of their many tight ends to distinguish himself from the rest.

Running backs: D+

The Cougars' rushing attack ranks last in the Pac-12 at 87.9 yards per game and top backup running back Jaylen Jenkins was dismissed from the team, Dickert announced Monday. Starter Nakia Watson was a hero a year ago but the sixth-year senior has just 173 yards on 2.9 per carry so far this year.

Offensive line: C-

The O-line looked much improved in pass protection to start the season but has struggled in both pass and run blocking in WSU's three-game losing streak. Coaches have shuffled the players on the O-line but haven't found the right recipe yet and time is running out.

Defensive line: A

Two names: senior edges Brennan Jackson and Ron Stone Jr. have been causing havoc in opposing backfields for what feels like forever.

The stats for the two best friends and roommates are similar: Stone has 35 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, five quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. Jackson has 31 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, five quarterback hurries and two fumble recoveries.

What the two provide to the team leadership-wise, though, can't be put into numbers.

Linebackers: C

This group is hard to grade. Devin Richardson's obliviousness on a play in which he had no idea who had the ball on a 42-yard touchdown by Oregon's Bucky Irving on Saturday stands out like a sore thumb.

But linebackers Kyle Thornton (54 tackles) and Richardson (45) are first and third on the team in tackles, respectively. The effort is there, but the instincts need to improve.

Defensive backs: B

WSU is minus-4 in the turnover margin, which is tied for 105th in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Safety Jaden Hicks' hard hits and nickel Kapena Gushiken's 88-yard interception return for a touchdown against UCLA stand out, but the Cougars have also lost to two freshmen quarterbacks this season. That's rough in a league full of top-tier veteran QBs.

Special teams: A+

Give these guys a gold star. Kicker Dean Janikowski is 7-of-8 on field goals, including 2-of-3 on attempts from 50-plus yards. Punter Nick Haberer's 44.5 yards per boot ranks third in the Pac-12 and kickoff specialist Colton Theaker once booted a touchback kicking from the 20-yard line against Northern Colorado. All WSU is missing is a kick or punt return for a touchdown, but those are much rarer in today's college football.

Wiebe may be contacted at (208) 848-2260, or on Twitter @StephanSports.