Washington state defense shows signs of dominant unity in 1994 | Washington State University

Sept. 24 – PULLMAN – Widely recognized as the greatest defensive unit in the history of Washington State’s football program, the “Palouse Posse” is in a class of its own.

But when Mike Price looks at these contemporary Cougars, he sees a defensive style and spirit that reminds him of the Star Posse he coached in the 1990s.

“There are a lot of similarities,” Price said by phone earlier this week.

Price, WSU head coach from 1989 to 2002, oversaw the development of the Palouse Posse, which began to gain momentum in 1992 and established itself as the top defense in the nation in 1994.

The Posse exhibited exceptional speed and a teeming identity. Today’s Cougars are relatively quick and relentless in their pursuit of ball carriers.

“Defensive ends are so quick when it comes to passing and containment,” Price said of WSU’s 2022 defense. “Their speed is so good. They’re really fun to watch. The secondary is involved in the stopping the run. There are similarities to high school athletic ability. We had athletic linebackers who could run. In fact, all defense was based on speed.

“I think that’s what they’re doing now too.”

WSU (3-0) and its stellar defense head into Pac-12 play Saturday at home with a major challenge against No. 15 Oregon and its high-powered offense.

“I’d be interested to see how they do,” Price said of the Cougars’ defense. “It will be an important game.”

WSU freshman coach Jake Dickert — the team’s defensive coordinator for the past two seasons — coined a motto for the defense a few years ago: “Play hard, play fast, play together. ” The Posse preached the same principles.

“We were quick, smart and had good team instincts,” said Torey Hunter, a notable former WSU cornerback who was a senior on the 1994 team. “We care about each other. “

Hunter, when asked about his assessment of the Cougars’ modern defense, said he was impressed with the gang-fighting abilities and veteran awareness exhibited by Dickert’s crew.

“They run football and they have great general instincts,” Hunter said. “The No. 1 thing they do is tackle well. They’re going to stay in football games because they understand chasing angles and they run well.

“It’s the best base you can have – running, chasing and swarming to the ball, and tackling well as a group.”

WSU has been lifted this season by a defense that is climbing the national rankings. The Cougars rank second in the FBS in tackles for loss (31) and sacks (14). They claim the No. 19 scoring defense at 12.7 ppg — 10.3 ppg if you don’t count a scoop-and-score TD from the Idaho defense in Week 1 — and the 28 running defense (90.7 yards). They didn’t allow a rushing touchdown and had seven takeaways, good for 17th nationally. WSU, an offensive-minded program in recent history, is now starring in its defense. The Cougs enjoyed a defensive resurgence last season and finished the year fifth in the nation with 29 turnovers.

In the early 1990s, the Cougars were trailing on offense with future NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe at the helm. Defense had been an afterthought in the Pullman school, but the team’s MO began to change.

“In 1990 we were in the bottom four in the country,” Hunter said. “Then we got into the 60s, then into the 20s, then into the top 10 (in 1993).

“We wanted it to be a place where the defense is known.”

Under defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer — who later coached in the NFL — the Palouse Posse emerged in a nine-win 1992 season. Zimmer passed the reins to Bill Doba two years later.

“Mike Zimmer and Bill Doba, two of the best defensive coaches in the country,” Price said.

In 1994, the Palouse Posse became the nation’s premier defense.

“They beat our offense every practice,” Price said.

They topped Division I in a handful of statistical categories, including total defense, and gave up just 11 points per game. They didn’t allow a touchdown until Week 4 and allowed four rushing touchdowns all year. They capped their season 8-4 with a dominating performance in the Alamo Bowl, snuffing out Baylor’s explosive offense in a 10-3 win.

The Posse had NFL talent all over the court and were well supplied with experienced contributors, many of whom started their careers as high-potential players on offense but are now known as some of the best defensemen in the history of the WSU.

“Singor Mobley was the best running back in Washington State. He started four years safe,” Price said. “Torey Hunter was one of the best wide receivers in the state. He’s going to be a great corner for us for four years. Mark Fields was the best running back in Los Angeles. And he’s maybe the best center linebacker we’ve ever had (Fields went 13th overall in the 1995 NFL Draft).

“We recruited the best athletes to put them on defense.”

Posse players have spent a few years growing side by side. By 1994, the Cougars defense had taken its final form as a top team, brimming with ultra-confident leaders.

“We had a bond and we held each other accountable,” Hunter said. “We were going places feeling good because we had played so much together. This was a band that understood what it was and had a certain arrogance to it.”

Cougars coaches could rely on their defensemen to give their teammates instructions. Several members of the Palouse Posse had successful coaching careers after their playing days ended.

“They always trained hard and they had fun doing it,” said Doba, who coordinated the WSU defense from 1994 to 2002 and then served as the team’s head coach between 2003 and 2007.” They were biting each other so they wouldn’t shove each other in training. It wasn’t me. They took it upon themselves to do their best.”

Dickert also places a strong emphasis on accountability. He wants his team to be ‘player led’. WSU’s 2022 defense includes a strong core of veterans. WSU which has adopted on-court coaching roles.

There’s a certain “comradeship and connection” to the Cougars’ defense that’s hard to put into words, Dickert said.

“You feel this team,” he said. “It’s effort, it’s physical. They don’t care who gets credit.”

The unit is communicative and always energetic. Price, who never misses a WSU game, saw the same defensive attitude in the Cougars about three decades ago.

“The enthusiasm and the desire that they play with – they play with spirit and they play fast,” Price said. “They jump around and cheer when something good happens.

“The Palouse Posse did a lot of that. We were very vocal.”

The Posse was front stacked and had a locked secondary. The Cougars defense in 2022 is punctuated by an exceptional defensive front, perhaps one of the best in the FBS. His defensive backs have been less proven, but they have performed respectably so far. Like the Posse, WSU’s current defense benefits from the services of brain players and future pros who combine to form an athletic unit of ball peddlers.

WSU’s defensive line is deep with mature players and includes two of the Pac-12’s elite rushers in Ron Stone Jr. and Brennan Jackson. Linebackers are dynamic — especially senior transfer Daiyan Henley, who started his college career as a wide receiver in Nevada but became an NFL-caliber linebacker.

“He’s terrific,” Price said of Henley, the reigning Pac-12 Defender of the Week and the nation’s highest-ranked LB (Pro Football Focus). “He’s the kind of guy who would have played for me.”

Of course, it would be unfair to expect WSU’s 2022 defense to replicate the success of the Palouse Posse, a surprisingly well-rounded unit that had more experienced plays and staggering numbers. WSU’s defense in 1994 was one of a kind.

But if the Cougars’ contemporary defense can maintain its pace, it will likely earn its own nickname.

What should it be?

WSU fans also took note of the similarities between their team’s defensive identity this season and the Palouse Posse’s days.

Cougars fans have been trying to come up with a fitting nickname for WSU’s 2022 defense. Top social media suggestion, courtesy of Twitter user Casey Adams (@_cja_14): “The Whitman Hitmen.”

Well done, but maybe we should let it come naturally.

The origins of the nickname Palouse Posse are unclear. Former Cougars interviewed for this article believe it formed sometime in 1992 and was conceived by a local journalist.

“It wasn’t us,” Hunter said. “People were trying to name us.”

Dickert politely declined when asked if he had any ideas for a nickname for his defense. He prefers to wait until the end of the season.

Henley gave the matter serious thought and admitted that it would be difficult for the defense to come up with a better nickname than “Palouse Posse”.

“P’s pop,” he said, noting the alliteration. “I’ll just let the Coug fans decide. I’m out of ideas.”


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