Led by Armani Marsh and Jaylen Watson, Washington State had one of the better pass defenses in the Pac-12 last season.

The Cougars gave up only 6.5 yards per pass, the second-best mark in the league. They held opposing quarterbacks just slightly under a 60% conversion rate on pass attempts (third-lowest in the league) and to the third-lowest rating in the league. Only Arizona State and Oregon had more interceptions, but Wazzu was one of the best in the conference at turning opportunities into takeaways.

This was a secondary that didn’t often get beat in behind, which is remarkable considering how aggressive they were at taking the ball away. Teams had an explosive pass play rate (20-plus yards) of 7.8% against the Cougars, a mark that was the 11th best in the country. And that was with opponents going at Wazzu’s secondary just as often as they did the front seven.

The Cougars were slightly above average on third-down and the Pac-12’s best red zone defense. Stingy. Sound. Savvy. Lots of ways you can describe the 2021 Cougar secondary but the word you’ll probably most often come back to is opportunistic.

As this team prepares for their first full season under head coach Jake Dickert and new offensive coordinator Eric Morris, there seems to be a good deal of confidence in the offense’s ability to put points on the board. That’ll embolden the defense to once again be aggressive in seeking out game-breaking plays.

“We’re going to turn the ball over, make plays in the backfield, sack the quarterback, and get the ball to our offense so they can put up points,” Marsh, the team’s nickel, said this week, per The Spokesman-Review’s Colton Clark.

If Washington State can replicate what it did last season—29 takeaways, fifth-most in football—it’ll be because new guys stepped up to replace what the Cougs lost.

Only 22% of total pressures return from the 2021 season along with 27.5% of total tackles. Marsh will be a key leader in the backend. Ron Stone Jr. (11.5 TFLs, five sacks) will look to build off a breakout season last year up front.

First-year defensive coordinator Brian Ward said they’re currently rotating 12-13 guys in the secondary as they look to replace Watson and George Hicks III, among others. Safety Jordan Lee (85 tackles, five TFLs, four PBUs, three forced fumbles) is coming along nicely after following Ward from Nevada to Pullman this offseason.

“I think we’re right where we want to be right now,” Ward said.