WSU Football Friday on Thursday – AZ Mildcats Edition

Happy Football Friday on Thursday Cougs!  As is the norm, we’re back to weigh in on this week’s Pac-10 slate of games, with some thoughts on the Cougs, of course. 

Oh, and don’t forget to do your Yahoo pick’em for this week.  Here’s the login info, just in case:

Group #1:
Go here.
Group: 14767
Password:gocougs

Group #2:
Go here.
Group: 16079
Password:wazzufbblog

So, the Mildcats of AZ roll into Pullman this Saturday, fresh off their first loss of 2010.  Will they be seething, fired up, pissed off/whatever about losing last week, and open up a can of you-know-what right on the Martin Stadium turf?  Or will they throw a big-time “pity party”, feeling sorry for themselves and unable to shake off last week’s upset loss to the mighty Beavs?  Read on for our takes…

SEANHAWK SEZ:

So last week, I thought I had seen the light.  And the kids came out and played well, didn’t they?  I know the final score vs. the Ducks wasn’t exactly cause for celebration – 43-23 is a pretty decisive margin of victory, after all – and they outgained our Cougs by a fairly significant margin – 556 to 336 in total yards.  So why is there so much positive energy right now coming outta Pullman?  Is losing by 20 points and getting outgained by 220 yards really something to be excited about?

Believe it or not….it IS.  Part of that is based on the deep dark hole we’ve been living in the last couple of seasons.  Our view of the landscape these days isn’t based on W’s and L’s, but more so on “Yeah, we lost, but how did we look?”  But yes, my friends, there were points of light to reach for during that loss, and there are reasons for hope as we roll into the second half of 2010.  For example:

1)  Jeff Tuel.  He continues to look good, making the proper decisions with the ball in his hands.  YES, he did throw a costly interception deep in the red zone, a throw he would like to have back 10 times out of 10.  For as he said himself, he got “greedy” and tried to go back to an inside slant throw that they had executed earlier in the game, but this time, Oregon was ready for it.  Thus the life of a sophomore QB, the learning experiences are happening right before our eyes.  But we all know that he will grow from that moment, maybe more than any other in that game.  He was excellent overall, 25-for-40 for 245 yards and a TD.  And he was pretty accurate on the underneath stuff, moreso than earlier in the year and an area he continues to improve on.  So yeah, I feel hope for Jeff Tuel’s progress!

2)  The wide receivers.  Believe it or not, this group has evolved from a question mark to maybe the best on the entire team.  At the beginning of the season, they were more or less known as the group that doesn’t have “anyone who can scare anybody”, per Ted Miller and others who looked at the wideouts.  But they now have seen some emerging players here, and some good ones at that.  Jared Karstetter leads the Pac-10 in number of catches, with 33, while Marquess Wilson, well, what can you say about him?  He’s got 29 catches himself, leading the Pac-10 in yards per catch (17.8) and is second in total receiving yards (515 yards).  He had a costly drop vs. Oregon, a drop that would have cut the lead to one TD late in the game, but overall he’s been tremendous, on pace for a 58-catch, 1,000+ yard season as a 17-yr old frosh!

3)  The offensive scheme.  You really have to go back to the Montana State game highlights and watch some of the sluggishness they showed on offense to appreciate how far things have come in such a short time.  The pistol with four wideouts and a back, or sometimes now with two backs and three wide receivers, has seen the team take a step forward offensively.  But beyond the stats and offensive efficiency ratings and all that, isn’t it just more FUN to watch them when they have the football now?  I know that is a basic way to try and analyze it, but yeah, you know it is fun to watch them with the football!  I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next when we see them take possession, for the possibilities have grown tremendously in just the last month alone. 

But it’s not all sunshine.  The defense is still pretty, well….pretty bad.  I know, they just put some more youth on the field as we are going to see a lot more of CJ Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi at linebacker, and most likely Anthony Carpenter is going to get more time at safety.  They can run, there is no question about that, and that bodes well for the future.  But the mistakes of youth are still going to rear it’s ugly head from here on out, and that’s the uncomfortable “rub” for this week.

I look at Arizona’s attack, and they are kinda/sorta in that Oregon mold, but there are some very drastic differences.  Arizona will spread you out all the same, and they will run you sideline to sideline, but they do their damage through the air.  The running game, while talented with the two-headed monster of Keola Antolin and Nic Grigsby, is more “window dressing” than it is a featured product, know what I mean?  Their offense is all about throwing the ball, and they do it very, very well.  They are the #1 passing offense in the conference at 328 yards per game, and Nick Foles is a completion percentage MACHINE, nearly 75% on the season and oh yeah, he leads the conference in passing yards per game at 305.8.  They kill you through the air, and they are fast and efficient. 

I do believe we’ll be able to hang with them, again in a similarity to the Oregon game.  I think Jeff Tuel will top 300 yards passing and probably get a couple, maybe even three TD passes.  But alas, the defense is going to have trouble slowing down this passing attack that is the best in the Pac-10.  I think another 500+ yard, 40+ point game is in the offing, and I don’t think there is anything they can do to avoid it.  Maybe in future years, when some of these kids on defense are actually shaving, we’ll have a punchers chance in this one.  But this Saturday, not so much.  AZ 45, WSU 27.

Other games:

CAL 34, USC 23 – While they put up a fight last week at Stanford, it seems like we are watching the Men of Troy slowly falling into the Pre-Pete-Carroll hole of unmotivated, uninterested football in LA.  And the Berkeley Bears look feisty after blowing the bejeezus out of UCLA. 

UW 27, Oregon State 25 – The last time I counted out UW, they went on the road and won at SC.  Meanwhile Oregon State is down a Rodgers brother, and that could have a huge impact on the evolution of young QB Ryan Katz.  UW is inconsistent as can be, but after laying a stinker last week, I think they bounce back at home in what is arguably the biggest game in the Jake Locker era.  Kick this one, with some many heavyweights still left on the schedule?  You can bet UW is home for the holidays.

Wow, that’s it for this week in the Pac-10?  Whatever.  Enjoy the games, and GO COUGS!

LONGBALL SEZ:

Sorry for my absence last week, but life sometimes gets in the way of Cougar football. As you all have heard by now I have decided to take the plunge and make an honest woman of Amieable. Against her better judgment and the advice of her attorney she said “yes”, so… here we go!

You can probably see how a shlub like me could fall for a gal like that. She was neck deep in studies at Holland library Saturday afternoon, it being crunch time for her final exams for grad school and all, and she threw down her books, grabbed the camera and marched down to Martin Stadium… on her own… and made sure that we had a first-hand account of what turned out to be one of the few exciting games of the last couple seasons. Well done!

Now, from what she tells me, we darned near looked like a football team, and against  the #2 team in the WHOLE COUNTRY. This week, it doesn’t get any easier as the Cougs play host to the #17 Arizona Wildcats who are coming off a wake-up call, losing at home to Oregon State last weekend. Not a great position to be in. We have spent the last 2+ seasons being the team that other teams got their mojo back against. This weekend, I hope we don’t play the red-headed step child and keep showing the kind of improvement that has made us look downright dangerous the last two weeks. Arizona brings an offense to Pullman that is almost entirely screen plays. This has me a little worried, but with enhanced speed and pursuit from the infusion of freshman talent into our D, there is hope. Kaufusi, Mizell, and Bucannon are going to need to grow up quick to keep this thing from getting out of control. Lets hope a revamped run game featuring MO MITZ, and a little better hands from our receiving corps can help our offense eat some clock and get in the end zone.

I’ll be there to take it all in. In my heart I am brimming with hope, but my head says this is the week we suffer a bit of a setback against a team that is going to be fired up after losing their perfect record:

Cats 48, Cougs 24

Elsewhere…

A short slate in the Pac-10 this week starts off in LA where the Trojans are going to make a meal out of the Cal Bears. The next game I have circled for our own Cougs to taste victory is November 6, when Cal visits Pullman, so no way am I picking them in LA.

Trojans 38, Bears 28

Finally, the mighty Beavs travel to Montlake to take on the schizophrenic Dawgs. The Beavers are one of the most battle tested teams in the country, hanging tough on the road against Boise St., TCU and then beating Arizona in Tuscon last weekend. That track record would seem to suggest that they shouldn’t have any trouble with the Dawgs. But as Lee Corso would say, “not so fast, my friend!”.  I expect the Dawgs to have one of their now predictable bounce back performances, and they won’t be as stretched on defense without James Rodgers reigning terror in their secondary.That said, after getting punched in the mouth early, I expect the Beavs to rally behind all that road warrior experience and gut one out late in the 4th quarter. The Pac-10 is full of amazing matchups this year and this is the best one this weekend.

Beavs 38, Dawgs 35

That’s it folks. Hope to see you all in Pullman this weekend. Until then… GO COUGS!

SUTRA SEZ:

Hello Followers.  Hope the week has been going well for you.

Well, as we head into the second half of the season, I must say that this is arguably the trickiest set of games that we’ve had to pick of the whole season!

Although I think that we have all an idea about who is going to represent the top teams in the conference at the end of the year (Oregon and Stanford), we do have a middle to bottom that still seems quite muddled.  And, in addition to that, we have that nebulous thing called “team psychology” that threatens to make ALL OF THESE GAMES a virtual toss-up this week if they are extended well into the fourth quarter.

With that in mind, let’s start with the Cougs’ game on Dad’s weekend.

Followers, as SeanHawk can attest, I started talking about this game as being an upset special immediately following our performance against UCLA.  The reason that I thought we might beat Arizona was based on two significant assumptions: (a) we would improve drastically last week at the same time that we got BLOWN OUT by Oregon; and (b) Arizona would beat Oregon State.

The result of those scenarios for me was that (a) Arizona would walk into this one sleeping, cocky from their #7 national ranking, and certain of a victory by virtue of our killer loss to Oregon; and (b) we would enter the game ready to put forth the type of effort we saw last week against a lesser talented and more conventional team.

Of course, we subsequently blew up that scenario by playing quite well against Oregon, while Arizona wound up losing to Oregon State at home.

So, as we enter this one, you have to figure that Arizona is going to be mad as hell.  And you have to bet that they have been told over and over and over by Mr. Angry about the importance of not letting us stick around.

Consequently, I think that we can expect Zona to come out blazing on offense.  I also think that we can expect them to blitz the holy heck out of Jeff Tuel early and often in this one.  And if they can get to Tuel early, then I fear that this one is going to turn ugly for our young lads.

At the same time, you have to wonder about what happens if Arizona is not able to put us away early.  From my experience watching ascending teams like the Cats over the years, they often get really, really fragile psychologically when they see dreams of a conference title slip away at the midpoint of the season (see recent CAL and Oregon collapses following 6-1 starts as exhibits A & B).  And so, a big part of me thinks that a tight game in the third quarter might lead Arizona to turn on each other.

On top of that, our Cougies are at a point in their development where they are dying to turn the corner.  Moreover, this team is NOT at the point where they are going to be doubting their ability to win a game in the fourth–although that doubt might show up later in the season.  Instead, this group is looking to right shortcomings of the past and is really looking to WIN.  They are NOT playing “not to lose.”

So, the key question for me is whether or not we can stay close through the first half.  To do so, we’re not only going to have to slow down Arizona’s vaunted attack, we’re going to have to put pressure on Foles AND play their screens to Grigsby and company to perfection.

That said, although I want us to win so stinking BADLY, I still don’t think our defense is up to such a task. And while I’d like Tuel to continue his amazing progression this week, I am afraid that he’s due for a bit of a let down.

In the end, Arizona spanks us pretty good 51-20.  But if this game is tight in the third, then I for one, will be looking for Tuel to step up at the same time that Arizona folds.

USC 35  CAL 28.  Call this the last chance for King Mediocre, e.g. Kevin Riley, to step forward.  Last week, Riley was terrible in a 35-7 blowout of UCLA.  For CAL to win this week, Riley will have a real opportunity to right himself against a terrible USC secondary.  But here’s to thinking that Riles is still NOT up to the task at the same time that USC’s offense really steps up to the plate.

OSU 41 Washington 28. All of Washington’s bowl hopes hinge on this game while the Beavs try to keep the momentum going without their spiritual leader, James Rodgers.  While part of me thinks that a real active Jake Locker can re-enact his performance against SC, the other part of me is focused on the Beavs’ offensive output versus the two Arizona schools–schools that have much better defenses than what the Defeateds have to offer.  So, while I think that Jake will have good numbers in this one (the Beavs defense still hasn’t taken hold), the improvement of Katz combined with the amazing power running of Quiz will be too much for that much maligned puppies D.  After this one, UCLA-UW looks to be a game that will determine whether the Apple Cup will be for 10th in the conference for the second time in three years.

Enjoy the game  AND LETS GO COUGS!!!!!!!

LUCASCOUG SEZ:

Cal at USC:  Aside from their shellacking at Nevada, the Bears defense is giving up less than 7 points per game!  USC has shown they are vulnerable, and this is without question, the best defense the Trojans have seen this year.  This is a big game for the Bears, who currently sit at 3-2, with remaining contests against the Washington and Oregon schools, Arizona State, and Stanford, which figures to be no more than maybe two or three winnable games left on that schedule.  What motivation is their for USC?  I have got to imagine dark days are on the horizon in LaLaLand, and I am not talking about the smog!  Cal 24 – Trojans 14.

Oregon State at Washington:  Once again the Beavs have circled the wagons and made their early October surge, knocking off a Top 10 team in Arizona last weekend.  Although it did cost them James Rogers in the process.  The Beavs are currently being ignored in the polls (for some ignorant reason) and conspiracy theories are already sprouting.  Dufresne makes some very interesting points in that article, and can also be found chatting it up on Tuesday with KJR’s Mike Gastineau.  In the late 90’s could you have ever imagined Oregon State knocking off the Huskies six consecutive times in the near future?  Me neither, considering from 1975 through 2003, the Huskies won 25 of 27 match-ups.  If the Dawgs don’t win this one, their chances of going to a bowl game decrease drastically!  Beavs 38 – Dawgs 31

Finally, Arizona at Wazzu: The Cougs have something to prove to their fan base after two consecutive, competitive games!  Not to mention the program has been a bit tarnished this week with the allegations against Ryan Leaf and a few former players, as well as the arrest of two current Cougs in a marijuana operation.  Oregon State passed for more than 400 yards last weekend in Tucson, and please don’t try to tell me Ryan Katz and his WRs are better than the Cougs set of players.  Katz’s passing numbers are slightly better than Tuel’s, but that’s because he has been sacked less than Tuel, and his offense has a ground game!  I am going to risk 1st Place in our Yahoo Pick Em League to take the Cougs on this one.  UPSET ALERT – Wazzu 31 – Arizona 30.

All for now.  GO COUGS!

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