PULLMAN – When Jahad Woods has a question these days, Washington State’s redshirt freshman linebacker often finds himself going to the inside linebackers coach who isn’t on the university payroll.
And Peyton Pelluer almost always has the answer.
“He’s definitely like a coach out here,” Woods said, “he’s helped me, he’s helped Justus (Rogers), he’s helped all the younger guys. … He’s like a big brother to me. He’s a smart guy, I’m always asking him for questions. Probably more than (inside linebackers) coach (Ken) Wilson. He’s definitely a great asset for the team.”
Pelluer’s senior season was cut short, but the senior linebacker decided he wouldn’t let a foot fracture – sustained during the third week of the season against Oregon State – prevent him from serving Washington State’s defense – one that grew especially young when a few of the group’s elder statesmen went down with severe injuries.
Those ailments have hit the middle linebackers the hardest. Pelluer was the first to go, and two other senior backers, Nate DeRider and Isaac Dotson, weren’t able to finish a game at Oregon three weeks later, and haven’t played since. DeRider is out for the year, but there could be hope for Dotson, who unlike the other two has at least been listed on the team’s depth chart every week since the Oregon game.
On paper, losses like that would seem to afflict any team in a major way. The Cougars just aren’t playing like it.
Among Power Five teams, WSU ranks eighth nationally in total defense, allowing just 297.5 yards per game, and perhaps more impressive than anything else is how stingy the Cougars have played against a few of the Pac-12’s most productive rushers.
Currently, the league’s top three running backs – Stanford’s Bryce Love, Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay and Oregon’s Royce Freeman – are combining to average 442 rushing yards per game. Together, those three gained only 229 yards against the Cougars. Love was the only one to score a touchdown.
Often, it’s been a couple of inexperienced redshirt freshman linebackers pulling the elite tailbacks down. Woods and Rogers, first-year starters who’ve combined to play in 20 games, are now the ones patrolling a quadrant of the field once anchored by veterans Pelluer and Dotson, who by comparison have 76 games under their belt.
The fifth-year seniors haven’t spent much time pouting. They’re too busy mentoring the players who’ve filled their spots.
“When Dot was out, it was like having three (coaches),” said Woods, who should be making his seventh start this Saturday at Utah. Unless Dotson returns, Rogers will make his fourth. “Just all three of them, like having a bunch of coaches helping you.”
Last Saturday against Stanford, Pelluer was one of the 20 seniors feted by WSU pregame. After that, he, DeRider and Robert Lewis – a receiver who hasn’t played this season because of an injury – raised the Cougars flag in the east end zone.
But Pelluer’s day was just getting started. Like he’d done in each of the six previous games, Pelluer hoofed it up to the press box to join WSU’s defensive assistants. A birds-eye view of the playing field gives him a better vantage point of Woods’ and Rogers’ positioning. Pelluer offers his insight whenever he feels it’s warranted.
“Peyton could be a coach in the future,” Woods said. “I definitely see it.”
And Pelluer probably beamed when he glanced at the tackles chart from Saturday’s game against Stanford. At the top was Woods, with a team-high eight tackles. Right below him, tied with Jalen Thompson, was Rogers with six. Rogers led the Cougars with tackles-for-loss (2.5) and registered his first sack. Woods had another 1.5 TFL.
Woods, who was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after just his second start, is already the team’s second-leading tackler (51). Rogers isn’t too far behind with 36.
It didn’t take long for either to get up to speed. Pelluer surely gets an assist for that.
“He was such an energetic – or, is still an energetic player,” Rush linebacker Dylan Hanser said earlier in the season. “Just personally, I’d take a bullet for Peyton. Everything he’s done for this defense as a leader, this team as a leader. I think he’s made a really big impact for everybody emotionally and physically as a leader and people just go to war for him.”
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