Mike Leach continues to build the Washington State Cougars into his kind of team in Pullman as he enters his third season at the helm in 2014. While the spotlight usually targets the offense and their gun-slinging ways, the key for the Cougs to get back to the postseason this fall could be their defense. WSU will have to come up with at least a couple of stops during the year when games get tight and their X-factor in 2014 could be buck linebacker Kache Palacio.
As a sophomore in 2013, Palacio starter the year as a backup before he worked his way into the starting lineup for the last few games of the year. Despite the limited opportunity early on, Palacio finished second on the team with four sacks as he accumulated 48 tackles with 6.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. He’s the favorite to start opening day this fall and show what he can do with a full season of opportunities to get after the passer.
Palacio has the athleticism to really excel out of the hybrid edge-rushing role that he’ll be handed in 2014 and could create problems for opposing quarterbacks. He has the talent to be a real difference-maker and will be utilized creatively to get him some open lanes when getting after the passer. If he comes alongside or behind WSU’s top defensive player Xavier Cooper, it could create a disruptive tandem the takes the Cougars’ defense to the next level.
There are still going to be plenty of holes for this WSU defense to patch up, but the ability to get after the quarterback can help cure a lot of ailments. Kache Palacio flashed the ability to be an excellent pass rusher in spots last season. Will he take the next step in a featured defensive role in 2014?