Can a Bye Week Be Just What the Cougars Needed?
The 2-5 Washington State Cougars are coming off of their bye week to face #19 Stanford on the road.
The game is not anticipated to be a close one, but Mike Leach implemented some interesting strategies over his team’s bye week. We shall see if they can improve the Cougars’ performance on the field.
Match up: Washington St. Cougars (+21) at Stanford Cardinals (-21)
Venue: Stanford Stadium (Stanford, California)
Game Time, TV: 3:15 pm (PDT), Pac-12 Networks
Date: Saturday, October 27, 2012
Weather: 73 High, 57 Low, Sunny
Team Records: WSU (2-5, 0-4 Pac-12) Stanford (5-2, 3-1 Pac-12)
Stanford is coming off of a 21-3 victory over Cal in their 115th Big Game last week, the team that stomped the Cougars before their bye week 31-17.
The Cardinals have been impressive – as expected – this season besides a surprising upset to the Washington Huskies in week four. Their only other defeat came to a very good Notre Dame team in overtime, after a controversial touchdown call on the goal line.
The Cougars have had an interesting regiment this past week, and hopefully it will be just what WSU needs to upset the Cardinals on Saturday.
Game Notes / How They Match Up
Both teams come into this matchup with completely different mind sets.
The Cardinal are looking to tack on another victory and move up in the BCS rankings. Meanwhile, the Cougars are attempting to mend the several tears in their offensive and defensive schemes to prevent yet another loss in the Pac-12.
Over the Cougars bye week, Leach took an unorthodox method to ending his practices.
He ended one practice with an egg-toss competition – in which the combo of RB Carl Winston and K Andrew Furney took first place – and in another he finished with a penalty kick tournament.
For a team that has yet to play to their ability all season, it is an interesting turn of events from the stern-minded Leach. He obviously thinks the team needs to relieve some stress from the terrible start, and wants to focus on improving morale.
On the other side of the matchup, the Cardinal are following a convincing win on the road against Cal. They come home in hopes of extending their home-winning streak to seven games.
What to Watch: Washington St.
The issues for the Cougars boil down to the quarterback position.
Neither quarterback has seemed to pick it up and run with it, and the offense has sputtered because of this.
Tuel is the obvious favorite out of the two. Halliday was given the opportunity to run the offense in a starting role, but turned it over to Tuel. Turnovers have become a second nature to Halliday, as in his last two outings he was a combined 13 for 30 with 5 interceptions.
Tuel is the starter this Saturday, and the nomination is very well deserved.
He is coming off a season-high 320 yards off of the bench against Cal. After Halliday’s two interceptions, Tuel entered the game and managed to throw two touchdowns while keeping the turnover margin to zero.
Unfortunately, moving the ball was still a difficulty. For the Cougars to be successful in Stanford this Saturday, Tuel is going to need to stretch the field.
Enter Marquess Wilson.
Wilson has had a good season, but not great. After seven games Wilson has 38 receptions for 640 yards and five touchdowns. These numbers are all team highs, but not up to par for the talented Wilson.
Wilson has had a bad case of the drops this year, limiting his stats from where they could be. Look for Wilson to have a clear head coming off of a somewhat “laxed” bye week, and challenging the Cardinal secondary deep on multiple occasions.
What to Watch: Stanford
The Cardinal offense hasn’t differed greatly from the past season when Andrew Luck was behind center.
Even with the future first-overall pick at the helm, head coach David Shaw stuck with his conservative multiple tight end sets and power running scheme. The same remains now with Josh Nunes.
Nunes has had an up-and-down season in his junior year. After the 17-13 defeat to Washington, the concern at quarterback was brought up for debate. At that point in the season, Nunes was completing only 52 percent of his passes and had a passer-efficiency rating of 114.2, both last in the Pac-12.
Shaw remained confident in his quarterback, and Nunes bounced back against Arizona the following week with 21 completions for 360 yards and two touchdowns.
The concern was quickly quieted, but since then Nunes has been mediocre at best. Luckily the Cardinal have an outstanding running back to take some stress off of the QB.
Stepfan Taylor has had a great season as the Cardinals’ workhorse. He has put up 100-yard games consistently and has a total of 846 yards on the season. He is the wheel that makes this offense go round’, and expect Stanford to get him going early and often this Saturday.
Washington St. Offense vs. Stanford Defense
It has been said again and again that Stanford’s front seven on defense is arguably the best in the nation.
They proved it last week in Berkeley, holding the Pac-12’s number 3 rushing team to just three yards. The term “suffocating” was used to describe their performance.
They can pressure the quarterback as well – like they did last week – sacking QB Zach Maynard four times. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Cougar offense.
The Cougs average only 40.6 yards per game on the ground, by far the lowest in the conference. A laughable stat considering the next team up – Oregon State – averages 68 more yards per game with 108.3.
WSU cannot run the football and they typically don’t try to. They are often spread out in four-receiver sets, hypothetically opening up the field and matching up linebackers on quick receivers in the slot.
Now this has not been a formula for success for the Cougars thus far, but it may be the only way they can move the ball on this stingy Stanford defense.
Last week Cal’s standout receiver Keenan Allen was limited to four catches for 43 yards. Allen is widely considered a top receiver in the nation. Wilson lingers around similar comparisons, so look for him to do what Allen failed to against the Cardinal secondary.
Stanford Offense vs Washington St. Defense
As bad as the Cougar offense has been, the defense has done its best to keep them in games – especially of late. They played very well against Oregon State in week 6, holding them to 19 points and picking off QB Sean Mannion three times.
They were off to a good start against Cal in Week 7, but a big play from Keenan Allen broke open in the mid-field and the Cougars couldn’t catch up.
The talent on this Cougar defense shine in the passing game, with Travis Long pressuring the quarterback and Deone Bucannon roaming the secondary. Stopping the run is another story.
Stepfan Taylor is third in the Pac-12 in rushing, and will look to continue his success against the Cougar defense and set pace for
the Stanford offense.
Taylor is undoubtedly the focus for this Cougar defense, but planning to stop him and actually doing so are two very different tasks. Look for a stacked box against this Stanford offense, attempting to slow Taylor and force Nunes into mistakes.
Prediction and Analysis
This game could easily become a landslide victory for the Stanford Cardinal. If they get their downhill running game going and open up play action against this Cougar defense, the score could end up being heavily lopsided.
The only way the Cougars upset this team is to get their air-raid going. The bye week is crucial for Mike Leach and the implementation of his system. With two weeks to prepare for this game, the timing on routes should be improved and this passing attack should be a little more smoothly ran.
Marquess Wilson needs to wake up, clear his head, and go out there and play the game he is able to play.