Viva Las Victorious
After their victory at home last Saturday, the Washington State Cougars look to get another win in Nevada Friday night.
This will mark the second out of the first three games for the Cougars that is broadcasted nationwide on ESPN. The outcome, however, should differ greatly from their previous national performance.
Matchup: Washington State vs UNLV (WSU -8.5)
Venue: Sam Boyd Stadium (Las Vegas, Nevada)
Game Time, TV: 6:00 PM (PDT), ESPN
Date: Friday, September 14, 2012
Weather: 95 High, 77 Low, Sunny
Team Records: WSU (1-1) UNLV (0-2)
Game Notes / How They Matchup
UNLV enters this game with an 0-2 start, which includes a triple-overtime loss to Minnesota and an FCS upset to Northern Arizona by a field goal with 10 seconds remaining.
The offensive numbers for the Rebels have been rather lopsided. A run-first team, they have posted 159 yards and 189 yards on the ground respectively in their first two outings. Their offensive woes have been on the shoulders of (rs) freshman quarterback Nick Sherry, who has struggled to complete 50 percent of his passes.
The Rebels returned 12 starters from last season, but they are returning from a 2-10 record which included a loss in Pullman to Washington State.
Friday the Cougars head down to the Rebel’s home town in sin city, and are poised to post a similar outcome to last season’s 59-7 victory.
The Rebels’ home field advantage won’t play as big of part as it could, considering they are expecting roughly 5,000 Cougar fans to travel down for the game. Granted the fans may be joining in other festivities as well while visiting – play some scrabble, maybe some mini golf – but nonetheless the Cougar fan section will be existent.
In the first two weeks the Cougars have yet to wow the audiences, and have shown growing pains in picking up Leach’s system. The offensive timing has been poor, the routes not rightly executed, and the mediocre defense has been put on display because of this.
The news doesn’t get any better when Jeff Tuel‘s status for Friday’s game is doubtful after his knee injury against Eastern Washington last week. However, the Cougars boast one of the top backups in the division in Connor Halliday, so all is far from lost.
What to Watch: Washington State
By the third week you would hope the offense would be more comfortable, would work out the kinks and miscues, and show a smoother version of what they have been producing. This is, of course, assuming you would be throwing the same quarterback out there.
This most likely will not be the case come Friday, as Tuel is doubtful and Halliday will likely step into the starting role.
In most cases this would be discouraging news, but after Halliday’s record-breaking performance last season vs Arizona State, the fans have been dying to see the (rs) sophomore get another shot at it.
On November 12, 2011 Connor Halliday set a Washington State Freshman record throwing for 494 yards and 4 touchdowns against Arizona State.
Halliday came in for the injured Tuel last week and seemed to pick up right where he left off, broadcasting his arm strength and heaving the ball down field. In this offense with his arsenal of receivers, Halliday’s upside is very intriguing.
What to Watch: UNLV
After ranking 118 out of 120 in passing yards in division I, the Rebels handed the reigns to the strong-armed (rs) freshman Nick Sherry. The Rebels are a run-heavy team in theory, but hoped that with a quarterback threat in the backfield the defensive box might open up a bit. Their prayers have yet to be answered.
In two games this season, Sherry has completed 32 of his 64 pass attempts for 355 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions.
Not exactly the stats you are hoping for to establish a passing threat.
The blame may not all be on the quarterback, considering he and the starting center are both freshman. And both positions are typically the leaders of the offense. A lot of pressure to put on a couple of young starters for a struggling UNLV program, let’s hope the Cougars take advantage of that.
Washington State Offense vs UNLV Defense
If the Cougars would have executed their offense appropriately – not fumbled on the goal line, take out one of the holds on the two touchdowns called back – the score for the Eastern game would have been a lot more impressive. However, they are still struggling in efficiency and timing, so their aerial threat is not what it will be.
The UNLV Defense has had two completely different outings in their first two games. Against Minnesota, they allowed 209 yards on the ground and 269 yards through the air. The stats somewhat inflated due to the triple-overtime, but nonetheless far from impressive.
Then, vs the FCS Northern Arizona, they shut their offense down allowing only 91 yards on the ground and 197 yards in the air.
Key term there is FCS of course, but the Cougars didn’t fair too well against the FCS Eagles last week so it seems fair to compare.
All in all, the UNLV defense will see its fair share of mismatches due to the talent WSU has in the passing game, and I don’t see much difficulty for the Cougars to score in this one.
UNLV Offense vs Washington State Defense
When your offense is struggling and the reason being is your (rs) freshman QB, the defense is going to adjust and make your team throw the ball. This is how the Cougars will strike Friday night.
UNLV has a solid running back in Tim Cornett, who has posted 127 yards and 141 yards on the ground respectively in his first two outings with a 5.3 yards per carry average. This will be the focus of the Cougar defense.
They will stack the box, attempting to prevent Cornett from getting in a rhythm and setting the tempo for the Rebel offense.
Pressure will also be key for the Cougar defense.
If they are successful in slowing down Cornett, they will need to take advantage of the struggling freshman behind center and give him a solid dose of blitz packages.
Pressure and freshman QB do not bode well together, and will likely result in several turnovers for the Cougar defense.
Prediction and Analysis
The Cougars have been far from spectacular in their first two outings, and are now heading to Las Vegas with their backup QB. Halliday is an extremely talented backup, however, and unlike Tuel is far from timid with the football.
Expect Halliday to let the ball fly often, and let Marquess Wilson make plays down field like he did all last season.
Halliday is a risk-taking QB, and he may throw an interception or two in this game, but with the poor defensive of UNLV on the other side of the ball, the reward will greatly outweigh the risk.
I expect the Cougars to head down to UNLV confident and more composed than they have been, and give the traveling Cougar fans a strong offensive outing and lopsided victory in Sam Boyd Stadium.