As Wyoming takes to the road for the first time this season to play PAC-12 conference member Washington State, we had the chance to get a few questions answered by Jeff Nusser of CougCenter.com on the SB nation network about this weeks opponent. Enjoy!
WyoNation: Washington State is off to a 1-1 start with a loss to Portland State and a win over Rutgers. How would you assess the Cougars seasonso far?
CougCenter: Beating Rutgers on the road last week certainly took some of the sting out of the season-opening loss to Portland State … but not all of it. It’s not just that it was the first loss to an FCS school since 1947 — as you know, FBS schools aren’t immune to the FCS bug) — it’s that it came right out of the gate in a season when the program was *finally* supposed to be turning the corner. Success has been sparse since WSU won 30 games in three years in the early 2000s, and Mike Leach’s fourth year was supposed to show that the program was definitely on the right track. So dropping a game to an FCS school while looking listless and lifeless while doing it is naturally going to panic a fanbase that is desperate for relevancy.
Still, people are feeling a bit better after last week. Everyone realizes that traveling to the east coast and coming back with a win is no easy feat, and the offense was much better against the Scarlet Knights, putting up nearly 600 yards and 37 points. There were still plenty of problems — the defense had a difficult time stopping a one-dimensional offense and the special teams gave up two (more) kick returns for TDs — but there was enough progress to cause most people to lower their pitchforks … for the time being.
WyoNation: Wyoming has been very poor in pass defense through two games this season allowing 240 yards per game. How big of a passing game do you expect from QB Luke Falk going against an inexperienced secondary?
CougCenter: Well, the last time he faced an inexperienced secondary was last week and he threw for 478 yards and four touchdowns while being named the Pac-12 offensive player of the week … and Leach said Falk “left a little meat on the bone.” It looked that way to the layperson, too, as Falk was a bit late on some of his throws and often reluctant to push the ball downfield, especially early in the game. He got a bit more aggressive in the second half, and if he’s a bit more decisive while also maintaining that aggressiveness, Wyoming could be in for a long day.
WyoNation: The Washington State offense gets most of the focus but what can you tell me about the Cougar defense?
CougCenter: It looks a lot like the struggling defenses of the past few years: Lots of assignment mistakes followed up by poor tackling. Of interest to Wyoming fans is that the run defense has been putrid so far against a pair of power running teams, allowing more than 200 yards per game and more than 5 yards per carry. The nose tackles have struggled to hold up at the point of attack, which has led the linebackers to overcompensate on their run fits, leading to poor angles and cutbacks for running backs. I’d be pretty surprised if Wyoming didn’t have at least some success moving the ball despite its issues at QB.
One guy who hasn’t had trouble is defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao — he’s been a disruptive monster on the line so far, even blocking a PAT last weekend.
If, however, the Cougars have figured something out with their run defense, it could be a really long day for the Cowboys — WSU has shown itself to be pretty good at getting after the QB when the Cougs are able to put their opponents in passing situations. Watch out for Kache Palacio, Ivan McLennan, Vaeao, Hercules Mata’afa and Darryl Paulo in those situations. All can rush the passer effectively.
WyoNation: How has Mike leach changed the culture of WSU football after Paul Wuff was let go?
CougCenter: There’s been a lot of lip service paid to that, particularly by Leach, who lamented the lack of toughness and strength when he arrived. But in a lot of ways, things just don’t look that different on the field. The team still often looks unsure of itself, almost afraid to succeed. They seem to have a hard time just cutting it loose and having a great time playing football, and it’s led to some incredibly uneven efforts. Leach has definitely upgraded the recruiting, and that’s a positive. But when the program wins just 13 games in the first 39, something obviously isn’t taking hold as it’s supposed to.
WyoNation: Give me one of your best “crazy” Mike Leach stories, surely you have one?
CougCenter: I don’t have any personal stories, but this one about the time he signed for a package in the nude is pretty good!