Leach, Cougars look to right the ship in home opener
Fresh off a 30-6 shellacking at the hands of the BYU Cougars to open up the 2012 season, Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars will look to bounce back against an in-state foe in the form of the Eastern Washington Eagles.
Saturday will mark the much anticipated home-opener for the Cougars in front of a sellout out crowd in the newly renovated Martin Stadium, setting up an ideal scenario to get back on the right track offensively and defensively.
Matchup: Eastern Washington at Washington State (No lines)
Venue: Martin Stadium (Pullman, WA)
Game Time, TV: 12:00 PM (PDT), Pac-12 Network
Date: Saturday, September 8, 2012
Weather: 87 High, 50 Low, Sunny
Team Records: EWU (1-0) WSU (0-1)
Game Notes / How they matchup
In 2011, the Eagles staggered out of the gates to an 0-4 start, one season after winning the FCS national championship, in head coach Beau Baldwin’s fourth season. Eastern ended the season winning six of their final seven games to finish 7-5, but failed to make the playoffs for the first time during the Baldwin era.
For Eastern, 2012 could not have began any better after traveling to Idaho and pulling out an impressive 20-3 victory against the Vandals at the Kibbie Dome. The defense was stout and the offense did enough to keep the Vandal defense off balance by mixing up the run and pass.
The Eagles will now shift their momentum to the other side of the Palouse; gearing up for a Cougars team eager to refine the inconsistencies that plagued them throughout the BYU game.
The Cougars and Eagles will face off for the first time in over 100 years despite their close proximity in the eastern part of the state. The Cougars hold a 2-0 series advantage, defeating the Eagles 46-0 in 1907 and 73-0 in 1908. Needless to say, their histories don’t amount to a bonafide rivalry, but both teams will be looking to prove their worth.
Mike Leach will be making his home debut on the sidelines of Martin Stadium with plenty to prove after a questionable start to his WSU tenure.
It will be important for the Cougars not to look past the Eagles, regardless of their classification as an FCS school. They’re just two seasons removed from a national championship and opened up 2011 by nearly upsetting Washington at Husky Stadium. However, this is a game that the Cougars are expected to win — and win handily.
What to Watch: Washington State
After an abysmal offensive showing against BYU, the Washington State offense will have plenty of work to do heading into their second contest.
Jeff Tuel made some very questionable decisions in the passing game. There were a number of instances where Tuel was hesitant to use his legs — something that has made him so dangerous in previous years — and instead forced throws into coverage. When the pocket breaks down, Tuel has made a habit of extending the play, but converting that into positive yardage will be something worth watching this weekend.
You have to give credit to BYU’s defense for limiting the Cougars in nearly every offensive category.
They constantly dropped seven and eight guys into coverage and dared the offense to run the football. What resulted was 10 rushes for 13 yards with a long of five yards. That’s something that will have to change for the offense to begin clicking.
If the Cougars fail to have a legitimate rushing attack, teams are going to continue to drop everyone in coverage making it tough to find open receivers. Therefore, I expect the Cougars to try to establish some sort of running game against an undersized Eagles defensive line.
The Cougars defensive line was fairly solid on the inside and limited BYU running backs to just 3.0 yards per carry. What wasn’t consistent was pressure off the edges. The defensive secondary was victimized by the lack of pressure on the quarterback so it will be important that the Cougars try to find some sort of consistency in their pass rush.
What to Watch: Eastern Washington
The Cougars will face a familiar face this week as former Southern Methodist quarterback Kyle Padron — who transferred to EWU after an injury plagued season in 2011 — is now under center for the Eagles. Padron was the starting QB for the Mustangs when they HOSTED WSU in DALLAS during the 2010 season — a game WSU LOST 35-21.
Padron completed just 13 of 33 passes against Idaho, but was still able to turn those completions into 260 yards with a touchdown. He also threw one interception.
The Eagles’ defense was awful at best last season, ranking 110th in the nation at the FCS level. They were crippled by a lack of depth at nearly every position due to injuries and graduation.
This season, however, the Eagles return a bevy of young experience led by senior defensive end Paul Ena and and strong side linebacker Ronnie Hamlin, who was last week’s Big Sky defensive player of the week.
Eastern plays extremely similar to the style of play that the Cougars are shifting towards on both sides of the ball.
On offense you’ll see plenty of four and five receiver sets as they look to spread the offense out and pass the ball but they will also use the run as an attempt to setup the pass early. On the defensive side, the Eagles want to play fast, track the ball and create turnovers by putting pressure on the quarterback with a variety of blitz’s — sound familiar?
Washington State Offense vs. Eastern Washington Defense
Finding the endzone will be priority number one for the Cougars’ offense this week. Tuel has to be sharper and the offensive line needs to be more aggressive up front.
The running game will get a healthy dose of attempts, hoping to create the change of pace that is necessary to open up the passing game.
Against BYU, the passing attack was able to move the ball fairly well but they were unable to get the ball downfield with any consistency. Andrei Lintz was a non-factor and Marquess Wilson was draped in double coverage. For the passing attack to be as potent as previously advertised, these two guys will need to be more involved.
The Eagles relinquished just 267 total yards (167 passing yards) against an Idaho team that many expect to be one of the worst teams in the FBS this season. Good numbers against a bad offensive football team.
The Cougars should be able to move the ball with relative ease against a very average Eagles defense.
Eastern Washington Offense vs. Washington State Defense
The Cougars secondary will be tested by the Eagles’ pass-first offense which is loaded with big receivers.
Last week, Padron was able to find 6-5 receiver Brandon Kaufman five times for 148 yards. Flanking Kaufman is 6-4 receiver Nicholas Edwards, who led the Eagles in receiving in 2011. The two combine to form a tough task for the WSU defensive backfield that lacks serious size.
Against Idaho, Padron took a lot of shots into coverage trying to find receivers who, to be honest, were far from being considered open. There were three passes, in addition to the ball that was picked off, that should have been intercepted. If the Cougars can take advantage of Padron’s aggressiveness in the passing attack, it could be a turnover fest in favor of WSU.
To make up for the size disadvantage in the secondary, the Cougars will need to create pressure on Padron via exposing an Eagles’ offensive line that is searching for an identity after being riddled with injuries.
After rushing the ball 40 times for 152 yards (3.8 yards per carry) against Idaho, it’s pretty apparent that the Eagles’ running game isn’t their strong point. If the Cougars can stuff the rushing attack early it will allow them to unleash the linebackers to alter the passing game.
It should be noted that WSU defensive coordinator Mike Breske, who previously held the same position at Montana, is familiar with Eastern after facing them for two years in the Big Sky.
Prediction and Analysis
After having a week to examine what went wrong against BYU, the Cougars should bounce back impressively against a rather inferior Eastern Washington football team.
It will be important that Tuel has time to make his progressions and, if the offensive line can give him that time, the Cougars offense could have a hay-day.
Eastern does have some weapons but their offensive line is skeptical. If WSU can generate a consistent pass rush you can expect the secondary to vulture everything thrown in the defensive backfield, turning into a handful of turnovers.
It will be important that the Cougars come out focused and find a rhythm on offense while flying around on defense, but this should ultimately end up a Washington State victory.
Get the cannons ready, the Pirate is pissed.