In searching for someone to exchange Q&A's with this week, I was very happy to stumble upon this gem of a WSU Cougar blog. It's title? Washington State Football Blog.
Thanks to Sean and "BrinkHater" for both responding to my questions this week. Keep up the great work guys, and yes, we will see you in a few weeks for B-Ball.
Jake, Building the Dam: Give us a brief synopsis of your season thus far. We know you've had your ups and downs just like any team. Anyone can find your schedule, but give us a Cougar fan's perspective on what's gone down.
Sean, WSU Football Blog: It's been quite the roller-coaster. After getting run off the field at Autzen Stadium, the Cougs' fell to 2-5 and heading into the bye week, the vultures were circiling the carcass of Bill Doba. Some, including Brinkhater, speculated that Doba might even step down after that game, it was really that bad. But a funny thing happened after that stretch. Suddenly the defense, which was on pace to be one of the worst in school history and certainly the worst - by far - in the Doba era - started playing with a chip on it's shoulder. Doba made a permanent shift to the 3-4 defense and basically cut these guys loose. Combined with a not-so-difficult schedule of a beat-up UCLA, at struggling Cal and a Stanford team that's out of gas, and suddenly they are 4-6 and sitting at the edge of a major turnaround if things can continue.
Brinkhater, WSU Football Blog: The Arizona State game was a big turning point for the team defensively, even though we got spanked mightily by the Quack the following week. Really, if you throw the first four games out the window, it has been a pretty good defense.
Jake, Building the Dam: What's the deal with Doba?
Sean, WSU Football Blog: It depends on who you talk to and when you talk to them. After that debacle, even the mainstream media came out with columns that the old man must go. Doba is such a class act, a grandfatherly figure that you would want to get your mail and check the house while you are out of town, that I think the beat writers and columnists have given him a free pass over the last few seasons. But this year the gloves have come off. Given his age (67) and the fact that if the Cougars don't get to the postseason it'll be the longest stretch of staying home for the holidays since the mid-80's, the heat has been set to high on his coaching seat. A.D. Jim Sterk has said positive things about Doba, but, he's also said that he'll be evaluated at the end of the season, avoiding the whole vote-of-confidence deal. At WSU Football Blog we've heard a lot of rumors with juice, but I truly think that they'll let things play out these last two games and then we'll see.
Money is always an issue with WSU, and right now we are smack dab in the middle of Phase II of a four-phase stadium renovation that will ultimately add more seats, luxury boxes, etc. But more funds have to be raised to get to the finish line. If they fail to make a bowl game, keeping Doba at this point looks like a sign to many Cougars that mediocrity - or worse - is acceptable, and that makes alums slow to reach for the check book when the phone rings.
Brinkhater, WSU Football Blog: The "deal" with Doba is that he is the anti-Midas compared to the real Midas of the Pac-10, Mike Riley. When you look at it, both coaches are dip squats that have a knack for developing talent but are knuckleheads between the 40's. Truly, the difference between the two is that Riley's stupid calls have worked over the last couple of years while Doba's haven't. It really is a matter of Karma. For example, the two point conversion against MIzzou last year was a stupid call. The play developed SSSSSSSSSLLLLLOOOOWWWWER than slow (I think the right tackle missed a block) and yet Bernard somehow lumbers in for the win. Without question, that's a loss for the Cougs. Ditto the CAL game when Riley goes for the touch on 4th and 1 when the field goal would have put them up 4. Dumb move, but it worked. If its us, they stuff us at the one foot line and then drive 99 yards and then beat us by 15 going away...just one of those things....
Oh yeah, if they made the same call on us that they did on Bernard last week against the Puppies--we would have lost...So really, its just a Karma thing...Maybe Dobes has some good stuff comin' back at him...
Jake, Building the Dam: The Cougs are two wins away from bowl eligibility, and with two games left, how realistic does maybe the Armed Forces Bowl look right now? Correction-- Bell Helicopters Armed Forces Bowl.
Sean, WSU Football Blog: A bowl game?? Heaven. We are clawing to get back to the postseason and we'll take it in any way, shape or form. It's been almost 4 long years since the 2003 win, and the frustration level has been rising among fans and alums. The thing to consider with bowl games isn't so much the game itself and the exposure for the program, but the extra practices that come with it. When you figure it out on paper, a bowl bid is really like having an extra spring session of practices, which is beyond valuable for trying to develop young players in the program. And when you think about not having a bowl for 3 straight years, and possibly a 4th this year, that's almost the equivalent of missing out on an entire year of practices! It's a huge disadvantage in today's game, where the time players actually get with coaches has been cut back so much compared to the past. So, yeah, a bowl game? It's not even viewed as a luxury anymore, and more like a necessity for this program if they hope to compete in the near future.
Brinkhater, WSU Football Blog: If you look at our Blog from August this year, we celebrated a pre-season prediction that we would end up there. From where we started this year, the Armed Forces Bowl would be a quasi National Championship for the Crimson Nation.
Jake, Building the Dam: It seems like Alex Brink has been around forever. He's neck and neck with Willie Tuitama for highest average passing yards per game. Behind these two guys, there's a considerable drop-off until you get to #3-- just over 50 yards per game. What is it about Brink that has allowed him to have such a successful year? (BrinkHater, I'm sorry if this is a touchy subject...)
Sean, WSU Football Blog: Ah, yes, the Brink debate. It's been raging since the kid came off the bench in 2004 and almost rallied the Cougs' to a win over , only to come up a couple of yards short to end the game. Here's the view on Brink - smart kid, sees the field well and basically gets the most out of his talent that he can. He's got an excellent receiving corps, one of the most talented in the modern WSU era according to WR coach Mike Levensellar, and he generally makes very good decisions with the ball, as evidenced by his TD/INT ratio (21 TD's, 9 INT's). But here's the kicker - he's just not very talented compared to his Pac-10 foes, or even the recent group of WSU QB's. Brink was recruited by the likes of Boise State and Eastern WA back in 2002 before he followed then-new OC Timm Rosenbach to WSU, so it's not like he turned down a bunch of powerhouse programs to become a Cougar.
That said, he has come a long way in his time in Pullman. He looked like a cross-country runner coming out of high school, but he's grown up and filled out well. But his lack of top-shelf arm strength has always been an issue, and that's especially glaring in the red-zone. He's great between the 20's, and therefore you see some flashy passing numbers, but once the field shortens up and the defense can pack it in, those throwing lanes get a lot smaller. The Cougars are one of the worst red-zone teams in the conference, and they are also on the low-end for points per game in conference play. A lot of those struggles can be placed at the feet of Brink, for he just doesn't have the extra zip on his fastball to get it in there.
Brinkhater, WSU Football Blog: Alex has been doing the same thing he's done his whole career, throw for a lot of yards and lose most of the time. Last year, he was second team All Conference after leading us to an 0-3 finish which killed what should have been OUR SUN BOWL SEASON! Its really pretty simple, teams play bend, bend, bend against us knowing that Alex can't lead us to touches in the red zone...But, in fairness, the other thing to remember is that we've had NO kicking game whatsoever for the past four years. That, as much as Alex, has absolutely killed our offensive production. I am absolutely serious when I say that if we had Serna the last three years, we would have been a bowl team all three years.
Jake, Building the Dam: You guys have a deep, veteran group of receivers in Bumpus, Gibson, Collins, Dillion, and Anderson. With OSU's secondary being torn up due to suspensions (two guys will miss the first half) and injuries, can we expect WSU to go deep on OSU early? It seems like it would be a wrong move not too-- Washington State ranks #8 in the Pac-10 in rushing.
Sean, WSU Football Blog: It sounds like you've been sitting in the coaches meetings all week. Seriously, YES, the Cougars are going to come out throwing it like crazy. They have no choice. Not only are the Beavers going to be thin in the secondary in that first half, but there's nobody better in America at stopping the rush than Oregon State. Combined with an inconsistent ground game out of WSU, you bet they're going to throw it. I wouldn't be surprised to see a 4-to-1 pass-run ratio in the first half, no matter the situation.
Brinkhater, WSU Football Blog, I actually think that the Beavs are gonna sit back a bit in this one and keep the game in front of them. I think they are much more apt to start to press and jump the short routes in the second half. Brink is a really tough SOB, so you aren't gonna knock him out of the game. But you can rattle him, and my guess is that Riley will try to do that AFTER any adjustments are made. Oh yeah, Alex can't beat you over the top--unless Ivory runs wild.
Jake, Building the Dam: Speaking of rushing, tell us what Tardy, McCall, and Co. bring to the table.
Sean, WSU Football Blog: Unfortunately for the Cougars, Tardy is out for the year with a torn-up knee. (Note from Jake: sorry for my stupidity) The sad part is he got his injury on the last carry of his game against UCLA where he ran for over 200 yards! So right now it's going to be Chris Ivory, the true sophomore with a world of potential, and Kevin McCall, the physical senior, who will share the load. Ivory has the look of someone who could be very special, and that's coming from a lot of people, not just a WSU football blogger. He's a real physical kid at 6-0, 228, but he also has excellent quickness and good feet. Not only does he pack a wallop, but he's got some deception to him as well. He went over 100 yards last week vs. Stanford on only 15 carries, and drew raves after the game from players and coaches alike. But against the Beavers, his touches are probably going to be limited to the 10-15 carry range, given the idea that WSU is going to throw the ball. I really don't think we'll see much from the running game, except to try and keep the defense honest on occasion.
Brinkhater, WSU Football Blog: Ivory is an All-Conference type when healthy and when he realizes that the Pigskin ain't soap on a rope. I would expect HUGE things out of him next year as well as against the Huskies in the Apple Cup.
Jake, Building the Dam: The defense seems to be struggling as of late. With that said, what playmakers do we need to watch out for on defense? How do you think the Cougars will handle Yvenson Bernard and Lyle Moevao?
Sean, WSU Football Blog: Actually the defense has been the key to the turnaround of this season. They were on pace to be the worst we've ever seen in Pullman, but everything started to change back when they played ASU. The Cougars blitzed like crazy that game, over 50% of the defensive calls were blitzes, and they harrassed Rudy Carpenter all day. They were a missed field goal at the gun from going to O.T. But even after getting undressed by the Ducks, the Cougars held UCLA to just 7 points, they were game by holding Cal to 20 at home in a 3-point loss, and they kept Stanford at bay with 17 points, despite some really shoddy special teams play.
The key playmaker is rising sophomore linebacker Andy Mattingly. Mattingly only became a starter half-way through the season, and he's been a beast, racking up 74 tackles and an eye-opening 8 sacks. Mattingly is big (6-4, 240) and plays with reckless abandon. He was an outstanding baseball prospect in high school and was also a safety, so he doesn't lack athleticism. The move to the 3-4 defense has him on the field all game long, and his instincts are excellent for an OLB in that kind of attacking defense. He'll challenge for all-league honors this year, which is saying a lot for a kid that didn't see much game time until the middle of the season.
I think the WSU strategy is going to be to try and attack the running game with everything they have, and against the Beaver O-line, that's much easier said than done! But clearly the goal will be to try and slow down Bernard and that excellent running game, and force the game into the hands of Moevao. With your receivers missing the biggest playmaker in the conference in Stroughter (and yes, I think he's better than DeSean Jackson of Cal), and with Moevao still showing some inexperience, that has to be what the WSU staff is working on right now.
Brinkhater, WSU Football Blog: Ditto Sedihawk. What the Beavs have going for them tomorrow is a wonderful O-Line that I think could be enough to move the ball sufficiently to let Serna help decide the game. Bernard by himself won't beat this D. But a good QB performance tomorrow could really light us up.
Jake, Building the Dam: What's the weather forecast for Saturday? Dare I ask?
Sean, WSU Football Blog: Hey, mid-November in the northwest, you never know what you're going to get! But it actually looks like it'll be on the mild side with a chance of some rain. Probably high-40's and some sprinkles off and on.
Brinkhater, WSU Football Blog: I've heard snow and some hot hail. But who cares, all those kids have helmets and the weather won't curtail the 9600 faithful who will be in attendance. We'll look forward to taking it to you and Billy Ray Jay John in a few weeks.