WSU Football Friday on Thursday – Quack Attack Edition

Welcome to another WSU Football Friday on Thursday, where each of us belly up and weigh in on all things Pac-10/Cougs/whatever. 

As usual, don’t forget about the Yahoo Pick’em Contest.  Here’s the login info:

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

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

And the updated combined standings after last week’s action?

1)  LC AKA Brandon Lang – 32-5 overall, 153 total points
2)  bhwsu – 32-5 overall, 151 total points

Then we have a three-way tie for third:

3)  Soze is Classless! – 31-6 overall, 150 total points
4) Snakebit – 31-6 overall, 150 total points
5)  VegasCoug – 30-7 overall, 150 total points

Since LC AKA Brandon Lang is the overall leader, but is ineligible because, well, he’s Lucas Coug, we can say that bhwsu is technically in first place.  But it’s tight!  Anyway, nice work by all of you.  Should be interesting to see how it all unfolds the rest of the season.

Now, on to Football Friday on Thursday.

Followers, as we all know, this weekend is homecoming.  What you probably didn’t know, is that Saturday’s game also marks the Martin Stadium debut of none other than, THE 700 CLUB!!!

And while I wish that I was talking about Pat Robertson–or Al Franken AS Pat Robertson–instead I am talking about Oregon’s fantastic offense: One that seems sure to total 700 yards against us by 5:00pm Pacific Time on Saturday.

Cuz, let’s face it folks, this game is going to be BRUTAL.  Read on for a couple of reasons why, plus the rest of our takes for the week….

1) Oregon  is a National Title Contender.  I know that this is a duh, but this year more than in year’s past, Oregon may not need ANY help from the outside to play for all the marbles.  Because Ohio State still hasn’t figured out how to run the ball (Save T. Pryor), Oregon may be able to leap frog the Bucks simply based on style points.  And trust me, the ONE thing that Kelly is telling his boys right now is the importance of laying the wood to our Cougies–since nothing would hurt them more–especially the week after overtaking Boise State  in the polls–than to have us make the score respectable.  In short, expect to see Oregon try to put up Florida type numbers against anyone and everyone from here on out.

2) Oregon has a Heisman Trophy Candidate.  What helps your national title candidacy?  Try having one of the more dynamic rushers in the Pac-10 over the past 15 years who doubles as a legit Heisman Trophy candidate.  I mean, is James on par with Reggie Bush?  I think so. 

And nothing would do more to keep Oregon in the headlines–especially since they won’t be on TV–than for LaMichael to put up 300-350 yards of rushing on Saturday.  Will he do it?  I sure think so.

3) Oregon has given up an average of 6 second half points all year.  And folks, given that their offense really starts to roll in the second half, that means one thing–THEY DO NOT LET OFF THE GAS!!!  So, when you factor in that this is a road game for them–meaning that they’ll have fewer players to take off the bench–then one’s imagination starts to run really wild–and in the wrong direction.

4) Oregon has more speed on special teams than we have on our current roster.  Wanna know what makes a blow-out game a super blow-out?   The addition of special teams touchdowns.  Simply put, if we don’t kick the ball out of bounds on every punt, they’re going to run one (or more) back on us on Saturday.

5) Oregon scored 52 on Stanford and over 50 against Arizona State.
And yes, those were tough defenses.  And as we know, our defense is in a different league that what those two schools have to offer.  So, when you figure that Oregon will score MORE and more quickly on us this week, well, this game should be INSANELY ugly.

So, what can WE look for in this game.  Well, here are a few things:

1) Health. The one thing we have going for us right now is that we’ve stayed really healthy on offense. Given that our fortunes for more UCLA-SMU type games hangs on the development/improvement of the offense, we simply MUST find a way to get out of this game unscathed–even if it means shutting our first unit down early in the second half.

2) TWENTY-ONE. If this team can score over 21 points on Oregon by the end of the third quarter, I think we all should do back-flips–because it signals that the offense is still really developing.

3) 35,000 defensive reps.  Yes, I know that our boys are going to have their tongues hanging on the carpet by the end of the 1st quarter.  But, lets face it folks, what this young group needs is rep after rep after rep against really fast players.  The more reps, the more tape there is to watch.  The more reps, the more that the kids will have to rely on “reacting” and not over-thinking.  Moreover, the more that Oregon runs us over, the greater the likelihood that we’ll see the end of our pitiful 4-3 set.   I can at least dream, right?

And if all of these things happen:

4) We can expect to see us give Arizona ALL they want in two weeks.

And that’s really the lead. Stay healthy, continue to work and improve, and next week’s game will be interesting once again as the Mildcats enter a HUGE trap game….

Final Prediction:  Oregon 84 WSU 17 (our only hope is that Chip Kelly decides to try to develop his passing game early and often).

Other Games:

UCLA 24 CAL 13.  Lets call this Riley’s last stand.  Cougs showed lots of vulnerability in the Bruins’ secondary.  If Riles can break out of his four year stint as King Mediocre, then this one could be close.  But, here’s to thinking that Bruins run em over in what amounts to a pretty ugly football game.

Stanford 41  USC 35.  Call me stupid, but this one could be really interesting. For one, USC really can run the stinking football. For two, Stanford is awfully beat up on offense.  IF the latter weren’t true, I’d expect the Trees to really wallop Troy once again.  But, I’m pegging this one to be close (and LETS GO TREES!)

Arizona 24  Oregon State 17.  Nice win for the Beavs last week–a REALLY nice win.  But when you factor in how tough it was for them to win in Tuscon two years ago when they were REALLY good and the fact that they lost to Arizona at home last year when they were REALLY good, then its hard to pick them to win on the road when they are simply “good.”

ASU 27  Washington 24.  UPSET ALERT
.  This game is really ASU’s last stand.  Lose this one, and I think Denny loses this team–as well as his job at season’s end. But here’s the deal:  Locker tends not to play well when he faces really fast defenses with a good pass rush.  Moreover, at last check, Washington’s defense isn’t setting the world on fire.  So, I expect Jake to struggle in this one at the same time that the Devils manage just enough offense to pull this one out.  (Note to CougNation:  It may be better for us if ASU loses this game and quits on itself over the next couple of weeks).

Enjoy the games, enjoy Homecoming, stay positive, and Go Cougs.

LUCAS COUG SEZ:

UCLA at Cal:  The Bruins own a three game win streak after starting the season 0-2, and looking as if they could challenge Wazzu for 10th Place.  Cal is coming off a Bye Week that came after consecutive road losses to Nevada and Arizona.  The Cal defense has shown at times it is one of the better in the Pac, holding AirZona to only 13 points two weeks back.  This one is all about momentum, and right now that belongs to the Baby Blues.  Bruins 24 – Cal 17

Arizona State at UW:  The past two weeks, the Sun Devils have put up valiant fights against the Oregon schools, coming up just short in both.  This is a classic let down game for the Huskies, after their come from behind win over the Trojans last weekend.  The Huskies need this one really bad as they host OSU next week, and then play at Arizona, Stanford and at Oregon.  Sark is going to have the Mutts juiced for this one, as anywhere from 2-2 to 0-4 is possible in the upcoming stretch.  A win this weekend and the Dawgs have a legit shot to become bowl eligible for the first time since George W.’s first term as President.  A loss this weekend, and that goal is mighty tough.  Huskies 30 – Sun Devils 23

USC at Stanford: Both teams are coming off of Week Five losses.  Oregon came back from a 21-3 deficit to smash the Cardinal, while the Huskies knocked off the Trojans with another FG by Eric Folk.  The Cardinal have won two straight over the Trojans, and they make it three straight after this weekend.  Cardinal 45 – Trojans 35

Oregon State at Arizona: This is without question the best matchup of the week.  Oregon State appears to be clicking on all cylinders, while Arizona is coming off of a come from behind win at home against Cal, and their Bye Week.  I believe the Beavers have the momentum going into this one, but am completely torn as to who I will choose.  Ok, I am going to flip a quarter.  If it’s “Heads” I will take the Beavers, if it is “Tails,” I will take the Wildcats.  Ready?  Ok. 1-2-3.  It is “Heads.”  Oregon State 24 – Arizona 23

Finally, Oregon at Wazzu:  LaMichael James put up 257 yards on Stanford last weekend.  If he plays at all in the second half, he likely will eclipse the 357 yards that Rueben Mayes put up at Oregon in 1984. 

The Cougar offense is progressing and lots of new faces will be playing on defense….but the line on this game has moved up steadily throughout the week.  Ducks 65 – Cougs 17

GO COUGS!

SEANHAWK SEZ:

What up Cougs!?  So how ’bout that offensive performance vs. the Bruins in LA-LA land last Saturday?  I couldn’t help but fall back into the days of yesteryear, when you know, the football team was able to go up and down the field throwing the ball?  After watching Jeff Tuel top the 300-yard mark through the air in this new four wide, pistol shotgun offense, I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT

Well, kinda.  Actually that light you see over my shoulder is from yet another sunny October afternoon in the great Pacific NW (how about the weather lately?  FANTASTIC.).  No, it’s not the light of the football Gods shining down on me, illuminating my soul on all-things-Coug.  But hey, the UCLA game WAS something we can all glob onto as we move forward.  We can’t exactly bathe in the warmth, but you can at least see a glimmer of light/hope/etc?  The good news is that it IS out there, and it IS coming. 

But alas, it wasn’t all good news in Pasadena last week.  Yes, I was a little disappointed in the rushing output for the game.  Although after watching it again on the DVR, it really wasn’t THAT bad.  But just 73 net yards, and an inability to punch it in from first-and-goal from the 1 yard line with the game on the line are what really stands out.  A balanced attack is nice, sure, and the more effective the run game, the better the passing game (and anything to keep the heat off of young Jeff Tuel, the better).  But quite honestly, the running game in this offensive system we are currently watching is always going to be nothing more than a keep-em-honest approach.  Coach Wulff admitted as much in the radio show this week, when comparing offense systems of Oregon and WSU, how “Oregon will spread the field sideline to sideline, and they want to run first to set up the pass.  We will spread the field sideline to sideline, but we want to pass first to set up the run.”  So a seriously effective run game may be elusive right now, but the fact that we can actually throw the ball now, and we can do it against talented defensive players no less, is super encouraging for where this thing is headed! 

There’s a reason, my friends, why I’m starting out in such a positive manner this week.  Why?  Because, quite simply, this game is setting up to be seriously ugly from a WSU perspective.  At least on paper, there couldn’t be a worse match-up for a Coug team STRUGGA-LING to stop any semblance of a running game right now.  And that is one of the most discouraging things about where things sit today, because the problems we are seeing defensively should be cleaned up by now, don’t you think?!  Poor tackling, missed assignments, out of position, that’s usually stuff that you see early on, like the first two or three games at the most for a new season where you have a lot of new faces.  But by, say, the fourth week at the latest, these problems should be in the rearview mirror.  Instead, it’s getting WORSE. 

I do applaud the coaches for not sitting still.  First with the new offensive attack unveiled vs. USC, and taking big steps last week vs. UCLA.  Now this week we hear of changes to the defense, where the coaches have thrown their hands up into the air and said ENOUGH of this, we have to do something.  So Sekopi Kaufusi moves from a light, 235-lb speed rushing defensive end to a stout, 235-lb linebacker.  And the talented kid linebacker from Florida, CJ Mizell, appears to have turned a corner of some kind and he will have his 230-lb rock solid frame out there as well, roaming around and ready to beat people down who come his way. 

The good news is that coach Wulff and staff are showing that they can, in fact, recruit talented, Pac-10 level football players.  I don’t think anyone would argue against the ability of a CJ Mizell, a top-five nationally rated linebacker from the Sunshine State who was a prize recruit of Bobby Bowden and Florida State before he hit some bumps in the road, a road that eventually led him to Pullman.  And Kaufusi has been turning heads since he arrived in Pullman last year, a big, talented, wild-haired kid who can run and hit with a serious upside.  But you know what?  They could put Mike Singletary, Dick Butkus and Brian Uhrlacher at linebacker right now, and they would STILL have some problems stopping the run on this Cougar D.  Why?  I’m not going to name names…..but I’m looking in your direction, defensive line!

Unfortunately, the big boys up front aren’t getting it done against the ground game.  Ideally, you want a defensive line that can penetrate, explode up the field and make big-time plays in the backfield.  But if they can’t do that, well, OK then, at least we want our D-line to occupy blockers, eat up some space, and allow your linebackers to run wild and fly to the football, completely untouched and free to make big plays.  But if your defensive front can’t do either of those things against BCS opponents?  Well, you have seen it yourself this year.  You get absolutely gashed by the likes of OK State, USC and now UCLA.

Remember some of the best Cougar defenses of the modern era?  They were always highlighted by excellent play from the linebackers, sure.  Ron Childs, Mark Fields and Chris Hayes from ’94, Brandon Moore and Steve Gleason in ’97, Will Derting and Don Jackson in ’02.  But those linebackers wouldn’t have been nearly as effective if they didn’t have big-time defensive linemen in front of them, doing the dirty work to let those guys make plays!  In ’94 we had Chad Eaton and Don Sasa mixing it up, plus talented speed rushers like DeWayne Patterson.  In ’97, you had Leon Bender and Gary Holmes on the inside, and guys like Dorian Boose on the outside.  And ’02, you had serious speed in Isaac Brown and DD Acholonu on the outside, but don’t forget guys like Jeremy Williams and Tai Tupai doing damage on the defensive interior!  Those big, tough dudes up front allowed guys like Will Derting, well, to be Will Derting! 

It’s not like there is absolutely no hope around these parts.  There is always hope, right??  Brandon Rankin is talented, but he’s still learning with just the five games played this year in his NCAA division I career.  And we all like what we’ve seen out of Travis Long, but remember that he’s still only a sophomore, still learning on the job.  And therin, as they say, lies the rub.

Oregon is going to do whatever they want this Saturday.  Heck, LaMichael James (LaMichael means “The Michael” per an ESPN Gameday sign last week btw) averages SEVEN FREAKIN’ YARDS PER CARRY in his career!  Are you kidding me!?  SEVEN yards every time he touches the football?  That’s insanely good.  And the Coug rushing D, no matter what they do in shuffling bodies in and out, just don’t match up.  At. All.

But call me crazy, I think it stays within shouting distance for at least a half.  I really do believe this Coug passing attack is on to something.  And I know Oregon is on a mission, and coach Kelly has a serious CHIP on that shoulder of his (wha-wha-whaaaa), but I think it may take a quarter and a half for them to get it going after such an emotional surge vs. Stanford at home last Saturday. But then it’s boat-race city, and we can all be glad that this one isn’t on live TV.  DUCKS 58, Cougs 27.

Other games:

CAL 27, UCLA 23.  It’s weird, but I think Cal does something they haven’t done in a while – win a meaningful game in October.  But I think they won’t be surprised in the least by UCLA’s pistol, and Cal has already seen it run to perfection when they were run over by Nevada.  

Stanford 45  USC 21.  Stanford will bounce back nicely from last week, and wow, this really isn’t your father’s USC, is it?  Or maybe it is, when SC was that uninspired-yet-talented team that always seemed to underachieve?  Amazing to think that this is the first time since 1998 that SC was a double-digit underdog!  I read and heard about how unimpressive SC looked vs. UW, just stuff going on before the game and their sideline.  You really do have to wonder if some seriously bad times are on the horizon for what was the most glamorous program in college sports.

Arizona 35  Oregon State 27.  I love AZ’s offense, and the defense is pretty good too.  But the Beavs keep it close, yet I don’t see the Mike Riley turnaround magic this year.  I know it’s early, but they don’t have that “look” that they have had the last several years.  But a win at AZ would put them right back on track.  I wouldn’t be shocked in the least to see the Beavs pull it out, but I like AirZona in this one.

UW 33, ASU 20.
I know Sutra is feeling this one as his upset special, and since the line is only like 2 1/2 in favor of UW, maybe it isn’t such an upset after all.  But I think ASU hits the skids this week.  For the second week in a row they have to come all the way back up north, after losing to the Beavs last week in Corvallis.  At first glance, I thought Steven Threet has done a decent job for ASU so far.  But a closer look?  Not so much.  His success was early on in the season against non-BCS foes in Northern AZ and Portland State.  But a closer look might expose him for what he really is.  He has now thrown seven interceptions in just his last two games alone.  He was horrendous vs. the Beavs last week too, less than 50% passing and three INT’s.  While UW is hardly imposing on defense, I expect Threet’s mistakes to continue this week in Husky Stadium.

All for now.  GO COUGS!

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