Hello Cougar Nation! Hope you’ve all had a great week.
As the header for today indicates, tomorrow’s tilt against the resurgent Oregon State Beavers looks to have “trap game” written all over it.
What remains unclear at this point is whether this is a trap game for them or a trap game for us?
For more on that, read on.
Nation, for the past two seasons we have played Oregon much better and much tighter than we could have ever anticipated. I mean, in 2010, a one win WSU team followed up a VERY disappointing loss @ UCLA the week prior, to give the Ducks all they wanted in a 42-23 final that was MUCH closer than the score indicated.
Then last year, a Red Lobster-led Cougar team made a game of it through three quarters before falling to the Quack by a respectable 43-28 margin—a game that included two special teams touchdowns…
And then there was last week, a game which I thought showed more promise for a WSU team than I had ever seen. I mean, the underneath stuff is starting to be targeted, the defensive line looks like it has the potential to be more than serviceable—it looks like it has the potential to actually DOMINATE at times, and the special teams looks to be among the best in the conference.
But, if we look at the games that followed our contests against the Quack, well, those contests just haven’t gone very well. I mean, after two straight weeks in 2010 where it looked like our offense was starting to figure it out, we couldn’t do jack diddly squat the next week against an Arizona team (24-7 loss) that would go on to start the slide that would end the coaching tenure of Old Yeller.
And in 2011? Well, we took all the momentum that we gained the prior week in Eugene and blew all those chips in a hurry, en route to getting POUNDED 30-7 by CAL in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated.
And so, if past is prologue, we might be well advised to prep ourselves for a serious offensive meltdown on Saturday—as in a 48-13 type beat-down type of game….
And then there’s the Oregon State side of the ledger. I mean, notwithstanding Bud Whither’s prediction that the Beavs were going to be much better than advertised this year, most had the Beavs pegged for the bottom of the conference. And then Wisconsin came to town, and the Beavs punched them in the mouth. And then they traveled to a UCLA team that was just coming off a HUGE win against Nebraska, and the Beavs whooped them too. And then came another tough win in Tuscon (man, can the Beavs beat Zona and SC or what?????) last weekend. And with it, came a very, very nice and well deserved #14 ranking nationally. But wait, there’s more! When the first wave of BCS computer rankings came out this week, guess who was number 1 in two of them?
So, while all is great in Beaver land, you just have to wonder about the state of mind of Mike Riley’s bunch right now. Are they still committed and angered by the (relative) failures of past seasons, or are they starting to feel a bit full of themselves based on their early season accomplishments?
Moreover, when you look at the way that the Zona game played out last week, well, you have to wonder about who the Beavs really are? To be sure, they shut down a Wisconsin team with a Heisman trophy running back. Then, the next week, they shut down an RB at UCLA that looked like he should be considered an early season Heisman contender.
And then last week, well, they shut down Rich Rod’s ground game pretty darn good, en route to building a very nice 17-0 lead.
And then Arizona started to throw. And although the Beavs won the game with a gutsy fourth quarter drive, the Mildcats were able to outscore the Beavs 35-21 over last 33 minutes of the football game. I’ll repeat: The Mildcats were able to outscore the Beavs 35-21 over the last 33 minutes of the football game.
On to the Keys:
Be first on first down. We’ve talked about this for a few weeks now, but when second down comes and the Cougs are in a 2 and 4 or 2 and 6 type situation, the world changes: We can run the football, we can stretch the field vertically, and most importantly, we keep other teams off balance (and we keep our D off the field). If we want to hang in this one, we’re going to have to get stuff underneath and Marquess Wilson is going to need to do what he did last week which is be a go-to-guy underneath.
Keep it Base-ic. Last week, this young Cougar defense played its best game of the season playing out of a base package and playing a significant amount of zone coverage (at least to these eyes). Simply put, with the two leading receivers in the conference playing on the other side today, we’re going to get LIT if we stick them on an Island all day long. So, we’re going to have to blitz selectively and hope that our front four—particularly Xavier Cooper and Travis Long are able to put pressure on Mannion. Again, if past is prologue, Mannion like many less mobile QBs becomes error prone with pressure. So, you gotta bring it, but you have to do it selectively.
Be Special. Thus far, Oregon States special teams have been a bit sporadic, at least where the kicking game is concerned. And so, we need to hope that our D can nut-up like they did at times last week around the redzone, so we can force the Beavs into field goal attempts. Do that, and we will save 8 or so points that we’ll need to win the ball game (two touchdowns =14 pts; two field goals= 6 points).
Make the Big Play. Thus far this season, we’ve seen plenty-O-dropped touchdown passes. But as importantly, we’ve seen several occasions where our WRs have dropped balls that would have been first downs or would have put us in second and short opportunities. In my mind, all of those plays constitute BIG PLAYS. Because when you want to win on the road and you have only marginal talent, you need most everything to go right. And Saturday is no exception. We’re not good enough to not execute 95%. So, if we want to compete, we’re going to have to execute.
Oregon State can sure throw the football around. And, as I’ve railed about for weeks now, we can’t stop the pass worth a lick. And so, when I look at the game objectively, this one seems like a no-brainer loss. The only question is whether we’re going to make it close .
But if the prediction business were all about objectivity, we sure as hell wouldn’t need a blog such as this one. And so, while the score may very well be the 44-20 or 44-17 outcome that I somewhat envision, here’s to thinking that Halliday and company figure out the AirRaid this week and that the Hair Raid defense, led by Guanta, Long, Cooper, and Simmons, does just enough to turn 14 points into 8.
Call it 38-32 Cougs.
All for now. Go Cougs.