Washington State-Portland State: Return of "X" Factor to Improve Defense

Lew WrightSenior Writer ISeptember 17, 2008

Despite a start that is becoming historic in terms of futility, things are looking better for Coach Paul Wulff and Cougar Nation.

For real?  For real.

OK, here's the deal. 

Going into this season, conventional wisdom had Washington State improving their defense.  Last year the Cougs gave up yards by the mile and points by the truckload.  With many key players from that squad returning, it seemed as though there was nowhere to go but up for the WSU "D."  There's a mouthful of consonants for you!

Three games.  Three losses.  Major disappointments.  At least three big plays given up by the defense in each of the first three games.

Surprise?  You bet.  The play of this Cougar defense has surprised just about everyone except the coaching staff.

So what's next?

There will be wholesale changes in secondary alignment because of inconsistent play by a group that has given up an average of 50 points a game.

Coach Chris Ball and Coach Jody Sears will build their personnel changes around the return of safety Xavier Hicks—the "X" man. 

Hicks was suspended for the first three games for off-field troubles.  That's behind him, and everyone in the football program at WSU is glad to have him back.  Sure, Hicks is a good player.  The fact that he has worked hard to learn from his mistakes and move forward—that's what endears him to his teammates and coaches.

Not only will Hicks be the "X" factor in revamping the porous Cougar defense, his return couldn't come at a better time.

In Portland State, WSU will face one of the most potent passing attacks in the country.  Sure PSU is a Division II team...sorry.  The Vikings are a FCS team.  Hard to keep up with these politically correct changes.

Coach Jerry Glanville will come to Pullman dressed in black and unleashing a passing attack that will challenge and stretch any college defense.  Seriously!  Portland State is averaging nearly 400 yards per game through the air.  Holy Schnikes!  They don't even pretend to have a running game.

Yes, the timing of Hicks returning to the field of play is fortuitous.  Not only will he shore up the Cougs secondary, he will bring plenty of attitude.  X is known for his big hits.  Alfonso Jackson will be moving back to safety alongside X.  Jackson is known as a big hitter, too.

Perhaps the biggest attitude related to Hicks is that of Coach Wulff.  X is an example of how Wulff is revitalizing the WSU football program.  Rather than coddle Hicks because of his athletic ability, Wulff is coaching/teaching that everyone is responsible for their actions.

In the case of Hicks' mistakes, he is taking responsibility for bad judgment and moving forward.

There's reason for Cougar Nation to be optimistic about the game this Saturday in Martin Stadium.  Beyond this weekend, Coach Wulff is showing leadership that will build young men while rebuilding the Washington State football program.

It'll be great to see how the Cougs deploy their "X" factor Saturday.

Be even better to see that first victory of the season.