To get a Washington State point of view on Saturday's match-up in Pullman we sat down with Jeff Nusser of Coug Center for a quick three question Q&A on the the Cougars. Take a look.
I'm sure the Mike Leach hire injected a ton of enthusiasm into the Washington State program. How's the morale amongst fans of the program 3 games into the 2012 season?
Not quite as high as an outsider would probably expect for a team that's one third of the way to its stated goal of a bowl game after just three games. There was a ton of excitement immediate after Leach's hire, and the thought was that the Cougs would come out guns blazing out of the gate. That hasn't been the case at all -- the only game the passing offense has put up big numbers was against UNLV, and even in that, only one drive really resembled a classic Air Raid drive; the rest of it was big plays over the top. People are still in a cautious, wait-and-see mode. They want to see evidence that things really are different, and that we really can expect different results as the season rolls along. There's a fair amount of skepticism now that the team has sputtered its way through three games.
How are you guys coping with just how bad this team has been? Was there any inkling that this kind of a drop-off was around the corner? By the way, If anyone understands your pain, it's WSU fans.
To be honest, many of us aren't coping. Most rational fans didn't have very high expectations for this season, but there was a level of anticipation based on a very forgiving early schedule and the excitement of seeing some talented young players take the field. No one expected this. Three straight games of completely inept football has the fan base with one foot already off of the ledge. It's quite amazing to see the apathy surrounding the football program compared to the energy surrounding the basketball program. This is Colorado, after all. You guys are going to have to give us some tips on how to get through this. We've gotten used to bad football over the last six years, but this may be a new low for both of our programs.
The offense has seemed to struggle a bit with picking up Leach's offense so far. What's going on there and who should we expect to see at quarterback on Saturday?
Well, let's get to the QB question first. I'm fairly certain you'll see redshirt sophomore Connor Halliday -- Jeff Tuel injured his knee two weeks ago, and while he's practiced more this week than he did last week, he ceded nearly all the reps with the ones to Halliday on Wednesday. Both QBs seem to just be a little slow at reacting to what's unfolding in front of them, which is causing lots of hiccups. The interesting thing is that the two quarterbacks deal with this in completely different ways. Tuel, because of his ability to run, is prone to simply hold onto the ball and hold onto the ball and hold onto the ball until someone comes open or he's forced to take off. Halliday, on the other hand, generally will simply try to take a shot deep or fire it into a tight window. Both strategies are problematic, as the explosive plays were nearly non-existent under Tuel, but the tradeoff for the explosive plays under Halliday has been interceptions. The receivers also aren't doing the guys any favors much of the time by failing to get separation in man and settle into holes in the zones. The Air Raid takes reps to get rolling -- we're just hoping it clicks sooner than later.
Jordan Webb hasn't looked great, but Connor Wood didn't look any better on Saturday. In your mind, what's the solution here? And who do the Cougs likely see on Saturday?
The coaches have made it clear that Webb is still the starter for this team. Personally, I think those quotes are coming out now because the staff didn't see anything last week that would convince them otherwise. Take a look at quarterback coach Rip Scherer's quotes. They don't make sense at all. Yea, we all want to see our back-up's get playing time, but we don't do that in the first quarter of a game if we're just trying to "get them some snaps". I would love to see Connor Wood get a real shot. He has a ton of raw talent, has three years remaining with he program and his ceiling is significantly higher than that of Jordan Webb's.
What should Buffaloes fans expect from the Cougar defense this weekend? Have they improved from last year's team that came to Boulder?
Schematically, it's a 3-4 defense that utilizes a "Buck" outside linebacker in a versatile role. The starting Buck is Travis Long, and you'll see him do everything from lining up at an end with his hand in the ground to lining up in space as an outside linebacker to lining up at middle linebacker in certain passing situations. And like a 3-4, they try to bring controlled pressure from lots of different angles, especially on passing downs -- no surprise there. One thing that HAS surprised us, though, is that this has become a tough unit to run on -- the Cougs are strong up the middle with nose tackles Ioane Gauta and Toni Pole and middle linebacker Darryl Monroe. The best opportunity any team has to burn WSU is by testing the suspect secondary, which has given up a ton of big plays already this year.
The defense has been susceptible to big plays. Why? And will it do any better on Saturday against the Cougs?
An extreme amount of inexperience and, many would say, some very suspect coaching on the defensive side of the ball. The defense really hadn't given up too many big plays prior to the Fresno game. They had been consistently giving up 5-8 yards and had been eaten alive with short passes (which bodes well for a game against Mike Leach, doesn't it?). The Fresno game was just an absolute disaster. The ball got rolling downhill very quickly and after the Bulldogs took a quick 14-0 lead, there was nothing that could be done to stop it. This is a unit that will grow, they've started 3 true freshmen in the secondary the last two weeks and numerous newbies have seen time on the defensive line.