Washington State running back Nakia Watson (25) breaks away from Arizona safety Jaxen Turner in a game Nov. 19, 2022, in Tucson, Ariz. Washington State opens their season at Colorado State on Sept. 2. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

Washington State running back Nakia Watson (25) breaks away from Arizona safety Jaxen Turner in a game Nov. 19, 2022, in Tucson, Ariz. Washington State opens their season at Colorado State on Sept. 2. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

WSU hopes for stability, success amid wave of change

The Cougars enter their second season under head coach Jake Dickert.

By Tim Booth / Associated Press

The past two seasons have been a whirlwind for Jake Dickert and the entire Washington State program.

Coaching changes. Conference changes. It’s felt like nonstop waves hitting the Cougars.

“We’ve been through a lot of situations, we’ve navigated a lot of different things,” Dickert said. “Look at my tenure here. Washington State can thrive.”

Dickert is beginning his second full season in charge at Washington State looking for the near-misses from last season to turn into victories.

His first full season as a head coach was a mixed bag of success, struggles and ultimately a disappointing finish after a blowout loss to rival Washington and a bowl game flop against Fresno State. There were the highs of winning at Wisconsin and the lows of narrow home losses to Oregon and Utah.

“I think we learned from Year One. I’ve learned a lot as a head coach in Year One to Year Two how to run a program,” Dickert said. “I think those are the things that you’re really going to see as we go throughout this season.”

The Cougars have stability on the field in some key spots that they’re hoping can lead to a better record than last season’s 7-6 mark.

Washington State brings back starting quarterback Cam Ward, starting running back Nakia Watson and two of the best pass rushers in the league in Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson. But beyond those stars are questions at wide receiver, on the offensive line and in the back-seven of the defense.

One thing that remains is the chip the Cougars carry.

“We feel like nobody wants the Cougs to win. We’re all we got, we’re all we need,” Stone said. “As long as we have each other and we can rely on ourselves, we’re going to be facing so many different obstacles. It’s us versus the world, basically.”

BUCKLE UP

Ben Arbuckle arrived at Washington State this offseason with expectations that don’t normally accompany a 27-year-old offensive coordinator. The Cougars are hoping Arbuckle can unlock even more potential in the Washington State offense.

Arbuckle was the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky last season when the Hilltoppers ranked sixth in the country in total offense and 15th in scoring offense. QB Austin Reed led the country in yards passing and was third in TD passes.

“The one thing Coach Arbuckle has done from the moment he stepped in our building was just inject life into our offense,” Dickert said.

WARD’S NEXT CHAPTER

Washington State hoped Ward would be the next quarterback in the lineage of passers who put up huge numbers that led to wins. The numbers were there — he threw for 3,231 yards and 23 touchdowns — but the success didn’t follow. Ward also had too many times where he made poor decisions with the ball or tried to make a play and ended up taking a sack. Ward was sacked 46 times last season.

If Ward is to improve in the passing game, it will come with an almost entirely new group of pass catchers. None of the top three receivers from last season returned.

“Coach Arbuckle, we see eye to eye. The first thing we implemented is what I need to work on as a leader, quarterback,” Ward said. “I’ve changed tremendously since last season.”

RUSH PAIRING

While most of their defense remains a question, the Cougars do have two of the best defensive ends in the conference in Stone and Jackson. They were second-team all-Pac-12 selections last season and named preseason second-team all-Pac-12 going into this year.

Stone had 34 tackles and two sacks last season, while Jackson contributed 41 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and six sacks. Washington State will need the pair to be as disruptive as possible to make up for concerns about depth at linebacker after the graduation of first-team all-Pac-12 selection Deiyan Henley.

ROAD AHEAD

After opening at Colorado State, the Cougars will return home to host No. 19 Wisconsin in the first nonconference matchup with a Power Five program in Pullman in 25 years. Washington State will open conference play at home on Sept. 23 against No. 18 Oregon State and, thanks to opponent rotation, the Cougars will avoid matchups against No. 6 USC and No. 14 Utah. The Cougars will close the season with 10th-ranked Washington in what is likely the final Apple Cup with both teams in the same conference.

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