Last year in Seattle, Oregon St.'s Markus Wheaton, above outracing Danial Simmons, led an onslaught that the Washington St. defense couldn't keep corralled time and again, and got a 44-21 win for their efforts.
Can the Beaver's receivers, led by Wheaton and Brandin Cooks, who are the top two in the Pac-12 conference in average yards per game, torch the Cougs again?
Who will try to lead the "Air Raid" air strike on Reser for Washington St.?
Is the quarterback job now officially Connor Halliday's? Or will we see Mike Leach switch back to Jeff Tuel, who appeared to be healthy when he came in against Oregon? What's Coach Leach's strategy here?
Yes, it's officially his. Until Saturday, there was some question as to whether Tuel was even healthy enough to play, but when he relieved a banged up Halliday and promptly went 4-for-4 with a 25-yard touchdown to Marquess Wilson, that was put to rest.
As practice started this week, Halliday continued to take the practice reps with the No. 1 offense, so there seems to be no doubt that Leach has settled on sticking with Halliday. And I think that's a testament to Halliday's growth, which was especially evident on Saturday -- although he still threw an interception, there were far fewer of the blatantly bad decisions he's become sort of infamous for.
Is the defense really as bad as everyone is saying? Or are they just too thin? 34 points should have been enough to beat the Buffs, until 3 4th quarter TDs. And the Cougars even hung with Oregon for quite a while, only to see things blow up in the second half. What can we expect to see done to compensate for the defense until there is time to recruit some speed?
The defense has a very clear strength and a very clear weakness. Its strength is stopping the run -- for the first time in years, the middle of this line is pretty tough, led by nose tackles Ioane Gauta and Toni Pole, who both are strong and quick and allow the linebackers to fill running lanes. MLB Darryl Monroe lays the wood regularly. But the secondary has been a mess, giving up big plays all over the place.
I will say this, though: The defense appeared greatly improved last weekend in terms of being assignment sound (at least as much as we could tell from what we know of the defense). There really was only one readily apparent major breakdown in coverage, and that's a positive sign, since multiple breakdowns led to Colorado's improbable comeback.
So, really, the answer to your question is yes and no. Yes, they lack talent in a few spots and the depth is thin, but no, it's not all explained by that. It will be interesting to see what kind of strategy defensive coordinator Mike Breske employs on Saturday -- I'd bet on something quasi-conservative that forces Sean Mannion to complete a lot of throws underneath and daring him not to make mistakes.
Other than in a few short yardage situations, has Washington St. just totally abandoned trying to run? We all knew Coach Leach would go heavy on the pass, but we thought the Cougars would still try to run at least a little. Is the offensive line just totally over-matched? Was what we are seeing, 123rd of 124 teams in the country in rushing, what you expected?
The Air Raid is generally geared only to run against favorable fronts, so it's not like they were going to run it a ton, anyway. But if you can't run, you can't run, no matter what the front. WSU really can't run. It's that simple, and I don't expect that to change this weekend. It was a big problem early on against BYU and Eastern and UNLV, but the Cougs have started to figure out how to move the ball even against eight-man coverages.
Thanks, Jeff! Looking forward to the game!
(Photo by Andy Wooldridge)