We have a 12-pack of questions with the chief editor at All Coug’d Up and Washington State enthusiast Joshua Davis about this Saturday’s game between the Washington State Cougars and the Cal Golden Bears.
Golden Bear Lair: So far this season, Washington State has been great offensively against really bad teams (Idaho is the game that comes to mind) while playing poorly against really good teams. Do you think that has more to do with the quality of opponents or the Cougars offense not being as good as stats dictate?
Joshua Davis: Stanford and USC are two of the best (and most talented) defenses in the conference and really are some of the best in the nation. Auburn’s defense is super athletic. If you look at the overall picture, the WSU offense is “this close,” but they continue to make youthful mistakes from play to play that keep them from being really good against those good defenses. A drop in the end zone against USC forced interceptions in the end zone against both USC and Auburn in crucial situations, 4 third down drops against Stanford. I think the offense is set for a big outbreak in numbers from here on out, as the defenses get much less scary on the whole.
GBL: The play of quarterback Connor Halliday has been pretty good. However, he has thrown almost as many interceptions (9) as he has touchdowns (10) this season. Is his inconsistency something that has kept the Cougars from taking control of certain contests?
JD: No doubt about it. A few picks were on his receivers, but the fact is he’s still too willing to trust his arm above the system. Find the open guy. I guess it sounds simpler than it is.
GBL: Statistically speaking, the running game hasn’t been very good this season. The team, as a whole, has 303 rushing yards and only four touchdowns in five games. What needs to change in order for this facet of the offense to be more successful?
JD: Play against some less ridiculous defensive lines! Talk about elite – Stanford, USC and Auburn all have guys that have been or are going to be stars in college football in their front 3 or 4. Auburn’s the youngest of that group and WSU ran for 120 on them, so it can be done. Also, the Cougs have done a much better job than last season, as they are only 46 yards from equaling their 2012 total of 349.
GBL: One thing that the Washington State offense has been able to do well is that they have distributed the ball evenly amongst the receiving corps, targeting 14 different receivers. What makes this receiving group so good and deep?
JD: Leach doesn’t play favorites and the receivers are all trusted by the receiver coaches Dennis Simmons and David Yost. This makes it really easy for Halliday to trust them. Prime example being true freshman River Cracraft already accumulating 14 catches for 163 yards. Walk-on John Thompson even saw good time against Stanford. Other than that, the Cougs just have some good talent out on the field at all times, which means a receiver will normally be open.
GBL: Defensively, this team is allowing an average of 20.6 points per game. What does this defense need to do in order to stop the usually-potent offense of the Cal Golden Bears?
JD: I really believe this defense will hold Cal well below their averages. The two teams that were very multi-dimensional with their main quarterback just smoked the Cougar defense (Hogan from Stanford is MUCH more athletic than previously thought). But the one-dimensional teams (from the quarterback position) have struggled magnificently. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske will have this group ready to defend the pass.
GBL: Washington State’s defense (other than the 55-17 loss to Stanford this past weekend) had only given up 41 points in four games. Has their success been due to the fact that they haven’t faced the best offenses this season, or is their defense really this good?
JD: The defense is much improved over last season. Honestly, the offense and special teams are more to blame for the Auburn and Stanford scores of 31 and 55. Two pick-sixes against the Card, a near pick-six (inside the 10) against and a 100 yard kickoff return against Auburn. The defense has been really good, basically.
GBL: What went wrong in this weekend’s past game against Stanford?
JD: Honestly? Everything. It just snow-balled after Trent Murphy forced both a pick-six and Halliday out of the game with his body slam, midway through the 3rd quarter. Murphy then snatched his own pick-six on a screen pass. Even before that, the four drops on third down, the first missed field goal of the season due to a bad snap… Shall I continue? Fact is it was 17-3 midway through that 3rd quarter and then, like the elite team that they are, Stanford went on a crazy-unstoppable run.
GBL: What matchup do you think will be the most important to the game’s final outcome?
JD: I’d say the team that can win first down on the most consistent basis will be the most important stat, so D-lines vs O-lines.
GBL: Which Cougar players should the Cal fans be watching this weekend?
JD: Offensively, Gabe Marks (#9) and Dom Williams (#80) are the most explosive weapons the Cougs have at WR. If they have good numbers, the Cougs score a lot of points. Defensively, SS Deone Bucannon (#20) has been an All-American performer thus far this season. Also look out for middle backer Darryl Monroe (#13) – last time he was shut out (against Auburn), he returned with a purpose for a huge game against SC. He was totally shut out last week.
GBL: What are your thoughts on the job Mike Leach has done at Washington State thus far?
JD: Coug fans everywhere are seeing a HUGE difference in attitude from even last season. I think the general consensus is that he’s well on his way to making this team a North contender by next season. Recruiting so far supports that and the attitude of this team supports that. To a man this week, they all still talked about getting back on track to win the conference this week. That’s not a realistic goal, particularly in this division, but the fact is Leach has these guys believing that they should be in that race at the end. How can you say anything but that he has done a tremendous job?
GBL: What are the keys to the game for this weekend?
JD: GBL readers, if you wish to know this answer from us make sure to follow @goldenbearlair so you don’t miss it. I’ll be putting those together at the end of the week and tweeting them to you :).
GBL: Finish the Sentence: Washington State beats Cal if…
JD: To quote a Leachism: “Um, if we play better.” GO COUGS!
Make sure to tune into Saturday’s game. Kick off is set for a 1:00pm (PT) live from Memorial Stadium in beautiful Berkeley, California. The game will be aired on the Fox Sports 1. You can catch more analysis about the Washington State Cougars at All Coug’d Up.