Washington State takes a trip to Boise State this weekend and the Cougars are coming off of a loss to an FCS team for the second-straight year. We reached out Jeff Nusser at CougCenter.com to give us a hand at getting to know this Washington State team better.
1. Is there any dislike that Brett Rypien did not follow his uncle to Washington State?
There was definitely disappointment when Rypien announced he wasn't choosing WSU. I think a lot of casual fans assumed it was a done deal - Spokane kid, legacy connection to the Cougs, passer's dream of an offense under Leach.
However, those who followed recruiting closely knew it wasn't a slam dunk, and I think there was sort of a "well, his loss!" vibe to the reaction. Plus, it helps that we've got Luke Falk for (probably) this year and next, and his backup, Tyler Hilinski -- a former four-star Rivals recruit whom the Cougs landed after losing out on Rypien -- appears to be developing nicely. Fans probably still wish he'd come to WSU, and will lament it even more if he torches us on Saturday, but it's not like people are fixated on the loss.
2. Washington State struggled in their pass defense and Brett Rypien is one of the best sophomore quarterbacks country and leading a possibly great offense, so what are the Cougars plan to stop the pass this week?
I'm sure their plan is to try and suck a lot less than last week. There were so many problems defending the pass in getting torched by Eastern Washington, but most seem to be correctable.
Tackling was soft, and I don't imagine that will happen again. Plus, WSU gets back its all-Pac-12 candidate free safety, Shalom Luani, who was suspended last week after an arrest for assault. The defense improved rapidly week by week under Alex Grinch last year, and we'll be counting on that again. The one thing that I'm legitimately concerned about is that the Cougs were pretty much unable to get pressure with four against the Eagles. I don't know if that was a game one issue or if that's actually a legit problem.
3. I know this is a sore issue but how does Washington State lose to an FCS team for the second year in a row? What improvements do you see being made for the Boise State game?
We're asking ourselves the same thing, and we're having a hard time coming up with good answers. I wrote earlier this week about WSU's poor record in openers and Apple Cups under Mike Leach, speculating that maybe it's something in the preparation that's driven by Leach's general philosophies. But who knows?
Schematically, I expect the offense to figure out a way to actually include the X receiver this week (those guys in the left outside WR spot only caught a few of Falk's 41 completions), and I expect the defense to be a bit more aggressive in mixing in some blitzes.
4. Boise State are without starting safety Dylan Sumner-Gardner for the first month of the season. Washington State will chuck it down field regardless, but would the offense target his replacement or just go business as usual and spreading the ball around to whoever gets open?
The Air Raid is all about business as usual -- just throw it to the open guy -- but if Leach sees a weakness he can exploit, he's going to call more plays where the first or second read could expose that weak spot on the field. It's often why the offense starts out a bit slowly in games: Leach is probing for that weakness before he drills into it like a cavity without Novocaine.
5. How much do you hate seeing Washington State play at the blue turf in Boise?
A lot. That thing gives me such a headache. I have no idea how BSU fans do that every week.
6. What is your prediction?
I truly don't have a bead on it. They responded well to adversity last year, but as stud wide receiver Gabe Marks said, this isn't last year's team. Yes, the Cougs returned a ton of guys, but this group needs to find its own identity.
I'd be surprised if they no-showed after Saturday's embarrassment, but since I know how huge this game is for BSU, I'd also be really surprised if they won. I say they cover the spread, but lose a close one -- they've typically played better on the road under Leach than at home.