Homecoming on the Palouse, Cougs search for consistency
Homecoming is always a special time of the year on any college campus with alumni flocking to town, greek students indulging in excessive amounts of adult beverages, and proud displays of school colors on nearly every corner of town.
However, it’s all business this week for the Washington State Cougars as they open up Pac-12 play against the Colorado Buffaloes. Despite entering the game with a record of 2-1, the Cougars have struggled to put forth any sense of consistency while the Buffaloes are just trying to stop the bleeding after a dismal winless non-conference slate.
Matchup: Colorado Buffaloes (+19) at Washington State Cougars (-19)
Venue: Martin Stadium (Pullman, WA)
Game Time, TV: 1:00 PM (PDT), FX
Date: Saturday, September 22, 2012
Weather: 88 High, 49 Low, Mostly Sunny
Team Records: CU (0-3) WSU (2-1) — Pac-12 Opener
Game Notes / How They Matchup
Saturday will mark the second time that the Cougars and Buffaloes have faced off as Pac-12 conference foes and the eighth time in the two schools’ history. Colorado holds the series advantage with a record of 4-3.
The two teams opened up Pac-12 play against each other last season and the Cougars came out on top after a furious fourth quarter comeback. The win was capped off by a 63-yard touchdown pass from Marshall Lobbestael to Marquess Wilson with just over a minute left in the game to shock the Buffaloes 31-27 in Boulder.
For Washington State, 2012 has been a mix of good and bad. Their record of 2-1 is what many expected after their three non-conference matchup’s but the Cougars’ inability to finish games and bury far less superior opponents has been a serious cause for concern.
It’s been a whole different story for the Buffs as their second season under head coach Jon Embree has got off to a very unforgettable start. After losing to in-state rival Colorado St. to open the season, the Buffaloes were trounced at home by Sacramento St., an FCS opponent, on a last second field goal. To make matters worse, Colorado traveled to Fresno St. last week and reached an all-time low for the football program.
The Bulldogs obliterated the CU 69-14. Fresno led 35-0 after the first quarter and 55-7 at halftime while racking up 500-yards of total offense all in the first half.
Whether that hellish defeat will ignite a fire under the previously hapless Buffaloes is yet to be seen, but the Cougars find themselves with a very favorable matchup to begin Pac-12 play.
What to Watch: Washington State
Mike Leach has been mum thus far — as you would expect — but signs are pointing towards Halliday taking the snaps this weekend. Halliday, who took over for Tuel during the Eastern Washington game and started at UNLV, has looked rather impressive with his limited opportunities. Last Friday, Halliday was 26-of-45 for 378-yards and four touchdowns and took several shots down the field, something we haven’t been accustomed to with Tuel at quarterback.
There’s an obvious rift between Halliday’s and Tuel’s respective supporters, with both sides clamoring for their respective favorite, but as we’ve seen so far, we’ll have to wait until game time before the starter is unveiled.
The depth chart has been shaken up a little bit this week with an apparent injury to WR Rickey Galvin and undisclosed circumstances surrounding OL Dan Spitz. Isiah Myers leapfrogged Gabe Marks at the Z-WR, Bobby Ratliff is listed as the starter in place of Galvin at the H-WR, and Brett Bartolone is listed as the starting Y-WR.
On defense, Justin Sagote is listed as the starter at the WIL LB ahead of Chester Su’a, and Tyree Toomer will split time with Casey Locker at FS. True freshman Taylor Taliulu, who didn’t play against UNLV after starting the first two games of the year, will back up Deone Bucannon at SS.
What to Watch: Colorado
Colorado is desperately trying to find an identity on both sides of the ball. The Buffaloes have already cycled through three different quarterbacks with very little success.
Starting QB Jordan Webb, a transfer from Kansas, has completed just 50% of his passes for an average of 144 yards per game with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Webb will most likely get the start for the Buffs, but Embree showed his short string when he inserted backup quarterbacks Connor Wood (6-of-15, 75 yards, 2 INT) and Nick Hirschman (1-of-3, 41 yards) who both underperformed when thrown into the fire.
After losing nearly every playmaker off of a decent offense last season, Webb and freshman RB Christian Powell have been relied upon to move the football with very little success. Powell has rushed the ball 46 times for 199 yards and three touchdowns amounting to a glimmer of a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy offensive outlook.
On defense, the Buffaloes returned their top three tacklers including linebacker Jon Major, who had 65 tackles and three sacks last season, and All-Conference DT Will Pericak. The defensive front seven is undersized and the secondary has had trouble being able to stop anyone with CB Greg Henderson and true freshman CB Yuri Wright struggling to maintain any coverage.
Washington St. Offense vs. Colorado Defense
Colorado is a bad football team with a very bad defense. Think back to Washington State’s 2009 season where they gave up at least 58-points six times. It’s that bad in Boulder right now. It’s tough to watch, we know.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback for the Cougars, expect them to come out and throw the ball and mix in the run like they did against UNLV — about a 65-35 pass-to-run ratio. Assuming Halliday is under center, he should be able to find many receivers open downfield without having to force it into tight spaces like he’s had tendency to do so far this season with three interceptions and a handful of close calls.
Colorado ranks 106th-of-120 teams in total defense giving up 479.6 yards per game and have given up an average of 9.97 yards per pass completion. For a team like Washington State, that is enamored with passing the football, there should be plenty of chances to put points on the board through the air.
Wilson, Marks, and Myers should be able to stretch the field against a Colorado secondary that has been brutally exposed by mid-major offenses.
WSU should be able to jump out to an early lead against a porous Buffaloes defense and then focus on running the ball, hoping to find a spark in the rushing department that has been absent through three games. Expect the backfield of Teondray Caldwell, Leon Brooks, and Carl Winston to have a big second half assuming the Cougars can jump out to an early lead.
Colorado Offense vs. Washington St. Defense
The Buffaloes have had limited success — if any — on offense this season. Colorado ranks 113th in total offense, averaging just 291.3 yards per game and a dismal 4.28 yards per play through three games. Mind you, they haven’t exactly faced any dominating defenses as Colorado St. ranks 67th and Fresno St. ranks 53rd in total defense. Washington St. is 96th in total defense, however.
Because CU has been outscored 45-14 in the first quarter this season, they have been forced to abandon the running game early and been forced to throw the football.
Due to a season ending knee injury to promising WR Paul Richardson, the Buffaloes have struggled to find any capable receivers to throw the ball to. Redshirt freshman WR Nelson Spruce has been the go-to receiver in the Buffs offense so expect Damante Horton to attempt to lock down the promising freshman.
The Buffs are going to look to run the ball early but will most likely have to revert to passing the football assuming the Cougars jump out to an early lead. This bodes well for the Cougars secondary as Fresno St. returned two interceptions for touchdowns last week as Webb made several questionable decisions in the passing game.
WSU’s defense should be able to handle Colorado’s anemic offense.
Prediction and Analysis
For the just the second time in the last four seasons, the Cougars are favored to win a Pac-12 game (OSU last season) and expect WSU to come out firing on all cylinders against a Colorado team that is being labeled as one of the worst teams in, not only Colorado history, but NCAA history.
Whether Halliday or Tuel starts, the QB play should be solid and the defense will have several opportunities to make plays resulting in turnovers.
In what should be another tune-up game for the Cougars — who really need to find consistency — Homecoming should result in a WSU victory and their second consecutive 3-1 start to the season.