The Washington State Cougars are in Corvallis this week to face the Oregon State Beavers as Pac-12 play continues. Mike Leach’s Cougs are playing about as well as they could have hoped offensively with a record of 4-1. The defense has been a mixed bag though, which was evident last week in a close victory against Utah. OSU, who have been more of an offensive ball club themselves as of late, will face WSU in Reser on Saturday at 6 PM PT on the Pac-12 Network.
To get some insider perspective on Cougar football, we chatted with Michael Preston of CougCenter.com in a new opponent Q&A.
1. WSU’s last two games have been incredibly close: a three-point loss to USC, and a four-point win over Utah. a)how’s your heart and b) what’s been the cause of those games being so close?
My cardiologist has advised that I refrain from strenuous activity but, luckily, said nothing about eating burritos every day. I view this as a win.
The games were close because, and it sounds simple, WSU’s opponents were really good. USC is better than their record indicates and, couple with a short week road trip, WSU actually played better than we expected. They actually had a 10 point lead at half time and slowed way down offensively in the second half combined with more gashing of their secondary for long plays from the Trojans. Last week, they met a team that they could beat with their strengths and could beat them with their’s. Utah’s running game is one of the best and their physicality up front allowed Zach Moss to find some space in the first half before they adjusted and played more aggressively in the second. Gardner Minshew threw the ball all over the yard in the first and, combined with some pretty bad drops, had as bad a half of football as we’ve seen from him since the opener.
So ... yeah, good teams that they matched up well against!
2. Gardner Minshew leads the Pac-12 in passing yards and is second in touchdowns. WSU throws the ball quite a bit every year, so how does he stack up against some of the other impressive pass throwers the Cougs have had in recent years?
His mobility and decision making are certainly better than Luke Falk last year. For some reason in 2017, Falk took a massive step backwards in that second area (dude could never really run it) and it had a cascading effect in every other area. Minshew and his arm are very similar so, from that stand point, its like nothing really changed. It has been Minshew’s attitude that has surprised us; he is clearly a leader of this team despite being on campus for just a few months. He’ll also remind you of Connor Halliday in the “I’m gonna throw it into that window because I know I can get it there” mentality, which is really what this offense needs. You can’t afford to be tentative in the Air Raid; Luke Falk was and Minshew is, decidedly, not.
3. What, in your opinion, is WSU biggest weakness?
We’ve seen the defense struggle in different ways the last couple of weeks but I think the one consistent issue has been the defensive line. No Hercules Mata’afa, no Daniel Ekuale and the guy everyone was expecting to start at defensive tackle left school before the year started. There is not a lot of experience up front and it shows, at times. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has been trying to cover for the issues up front as best he can with some unique blitzes but there’s only so much you can do when you’re dealing with guys who have about as much game experience as I do...which is none. Their play will, again, be really important against a strong Oregon State rushing attack though. I would expect Jermar Jefferson to break a couple of big ones against this defense. He’s too good not to.
4. One similarity that the Beavs and WSU share is that they seem to be slightly more impressive on the offensive side of the ball than they are on defense. Is there concern on your end about the Beavs hanging with the Cougs if this thing comes down to a shootout?
A little bit, yes. I think WSU has the talent advantage at quarterback and certainly receiver; I could make the argument this is the best core of wideouts Mike Leach has had in his Washington State tenure. OSU certainly has a better pass defense than rushing though I wonder how much of that has to do with teams just rushing the ball because they don’t need to worry about throwing and the higher number of turnovers that come with that game plan. I’m more worried, as I talked about a second ago (can I say talked about a second ago in print?), of the rushing attack gashing WSU’s defense or, even if they don’t, controlling enough of the clock to really limit WSU possessions. Utah did a decent job of it on Saturday but WSU managed to score on three straight possessions in the first half before forgetting how to play offense for much of the second.
5. Prediction and final score for this game?
I think WSU actually will run the ball a little more in this game; Max Borghi and James Williams have to be chomping at the bit after basically getting no touches last weekend. Minshew hasn’t been as willing to check into runs as Falk last year but inside the 20, the running backs have been deadly. Oregon State is going to get their rushing yards and at least a few touchdowns out of this defense I think but I also don’t think Oregon State’s defense is good enough to keep up with WSU’s athletes. If the Cougs’ game against Oregon was next weekend, I’d be a little worried about them looking ahead but they get a bye so they’ll be completely focused on the Beavs. I’ll say 41-24 Washington State, they barely cover on the road.