There aren't too many good Cougars out there - but the guys over at CougCenter certainly fit the bill. If you haven't, check their blog out, because it's phenomenal - especially for a team that doesn't have that large of a fan base.
I've always been impressed by what they do and so, no better place to go to get their perspective on Saturday's game. And that's exactly what I did.
Enjoy and hopefully you learn something?
Also, thanks to Jeff for answering these questions.
What's the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's?
The Cougs are better in a lot of areas, but the greatest change has come about in this team's resiliency. They've been incredibly inconsistent, as rebuilding teams sometimes are, but they've also had this remarkable ability to come back from disappointment with strong performances: The Auburn loss turned into the USC win, the Oregon State embarrassment turned into hanging around with Oregon for a half, the ASU beatdown turned into a road upset of Arizona. I generally stick to things that are quantifiable, but the mental fortitude of this squad is something to be admired. Remember Mike Leach's "empty corpse" comment after last year's debacle at Rice-Eccles Stadium? It seems those guys have been weeded out or toughened up.
Is there no middle ground with Washington State? They either win - or they get blown out, it seems.
Eh, I think that more has to do with the quality of the opponents. The blowouts have come to Stanford, Oregon, ASU and Oregon State. OSU obviously doesn't belong in that group, but that was sort of a weird deal where the Cougs actually held a lead late in the third quarter before an epic meltdown fueled by some Connor Halliday interceptions let the thing spiral out of control. Narrow loss to Auburn, narrow win over USC, narrow win over Arizona ... those are three games that could have gone either way. And I'd bet that Saturday's game will be more of the same in that way.
What's the biggest weakness on defense?
The secondary, which has a difficult time staying with anyone, really. It's no coincidence that WSU's best defensive performances have come against the teams with the most questionable quarterbacks. The front seven is pretty excellent against the run when the pass isn't much of an option, which of course gives Cougar fans great confidence going into Saturday with Shulz starting. Second place would have to be the lateral speed of the linebackers. When they can play downhill, they can really thump you -- especially middle linebacker Darryl Monroe. But if you can take away their aggression (as OSU did with its fly sweeps and ASU did with its package plays), it's not terribly difficult to beat them to the corners.
What's the key to shutting down the Cougars offense?
I know you'll love to hear this: Pressure on Connor Halliday. Interceptions are his bugaboo, and he tends to make more of them when A) The Cougs start falling behind, and/or B) He's got guys in his face on every dropback. He's been antsy in the pocket throughout the year and he'll sometimes make ill advised throws in an effort to make something happen if he feels the game slipping away (though he was better on both of those fronts against the Wildcats on Saturday). Beyond his decision making, his mechanics are prone to breakdown when he feels guys at his feet -- he whips out this jump pass where he throws with his feet in the air and his shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage. These throws often turn into interceptions.
What type of game do you expect Saturday?
One that probably looks a lot like the one played in Pullman two years ago (although it appears there is no chance of snow this time). It'll be physical -- I imagine Utah will try to rely on its rushing attack, which is exactly what this Cougar defense is built to handle. I think Halliday will throw a couple of interceptions due to the Utes' pressure, but I think ultimately Schulz isn't able to give Utah enough playmaking from the quarterback position. I see a narrow victory for WSU this time.
6. Not a question - but man do I hate Cougars.
Understandable. But I will say that we're a lot more fun than THOSE Cougars!