What up Big Tex?
Some of you may not know (OK, if you are reading this from the great Northwest, you probably DON'T know), but allow me to introduce you to Big Tex. Big Tex is a big fixture in the Lone Star state. Here's all you need to know about Big Tex:
Big Tex made his debut at the 1952 State Fair of Texas. Wearing size 70 boots and a 75-gallon hat, Tex towered 52' above wide-eyed visitors. His denim jeans and plaid shirt were donated by the H. D. Lee Company of Shawnee Mission, Kansas. Cosmetic surgery the following year straightened his nose, corrected a lascivious wink and allowed him to talk.
Wait, allowed him to talk? Really? How cool is that. Naturally the question now is, "what does he sound like?" Like this. They like to do things big down there.
Speaking of which, I think we should have a gigantic George Washington, don't you? We could call him "Big George" or "The Big Wash" or "G-DUB". He could do The Puyallup, the Spokane Fair, Bumpershoot, Mariners and Seahawks games, the whole works. Maybe program him to give directions to the nearest porta-potty, something like that? I guess we'll just have to settle for Mt. Rushmore for now, as well as the occasional race at Washington Nats baseball games...
Think the founding fathers or great Presidents of the past would be thrilled with the over-sized caricature costumes? Just brutal.
Anyway, where were we? Oh yeah, Football Friday. And yes, we're playing SMU, hence the Big Tex sidetrack. The Mustangs are trotting into Pullman, and I think they are smelling blood to tell you the truth. For in their sights is a big fat 3-0 start for the first time in a LOOOONG time. Actually I have no idea when they last started 3-0, but it's probably been awhile? They did start 3-2 in 2006, their lost non-losing season (6-6 in '06). Whatever that's worth. But SMU has struggled to regain their status in the early 80's, when they won at least a piece of the National Title over a couple of seasons. In fact, from 1981-1984, SMU went an amazing 41-5-1, right in the height of the Pony Express craze that had everyone going ga-ga for Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
How bad has it been since that amazing run? Well, they've had one winning season since their last bowl in 1984(!). The slush funds and payments to players brought on the death penalty, and their outstanding success came with a steep price. It wiped out SMU, in a huge way. But hey, you have slush funds and you pay players, and you get caught, well, that's what happens. But all that crap is a long, long time ago, and none of the players suiting up were even born when SMU hit the skids. All they care about is what's right in front of them, and June Jones has them off to a decent start in '09. So what can we expect outta SMU this Saturday? Read on for three key things WSU has to do to win, plus the usual takes from all of us, as well as our weekly PAC-10 picks....enjoy.
So what has to happen for WSU to win? Three things:
1) PLAY SOME D! Easier said than done, right? Hawaii boat-raced the Cougar defense last Saturday, to the tune of....well, I don't have the numbers right in front of me, but it was A LOT of yards, OK?! Alright, I do have the numbers - 626 total yards, 35 first-half points on their way to a 38-20 win. Far, far, far too many yards allowed, well-documented how the 626 is the most since USC hung 700+ on them in '05. But if not for Hawaii giving the ball away four times, it could have been worse.
Yet aside from all that, in the first half anyway, the Cougar D looked slow, disorganized and unable to rush the passer and/or disrupt any timing whatsoever for QB Greg Alexander and the Warrior offense. Alexander had time to make a cake in the pocket and still throw the ball, wherever he wanted to.
"Hey, are we making a cake? You going to make a f*cking cake?! Bye-bye d*ckhead. See ya in Attica."
(Some of you won't get that, and that's ok.)
It was one of those days. Can't get pressure on the QB, can't cover the speedy wide receivers in the run-n-shoot, boys, you in BIG trouble. But for the Cougars to have any shot here, they have to figure out a way to attack the line of scrimmage and force the issue. Clearly sitting back in soft man-to-man coverage and giving up huge chunks of yards through the air, time and again, isn't going to get the job done. Yeah, we tried that already. Didn't work. Instead, they are going to have to get ultra-creative and come after QB Bo Levi Mitchell, making him as uncomfortable as possible in the Palouse. They have to mix up their looks and come from every direction, keeping him unsure of what he's going to see next. Whether it's a 3-man front in a 3-4 or 3-3-5 and they bring the house, or your traditional 4-3 and still bring some heat, they have to do something, ANYTHING, to disrupt the run-n-shoot. It all starts by disrupting the timing of the SMU trigger man, period. Can't get pressure on Mitchell, it's going to be another long day my friends.
2) MIX-N-MATCH ON OFFENSE! Now stay with me on this, but run the ball, only don't ONLY run the ball, you know what I mean? Don't fall in love with the ground game if you have some early success. Mix it up and don't become one-dimensional. If we want to see growth out of the QB position, which is what Wulff stressed repeatedly in the radio show this week, they have to create a balance on offense. Running the ball is great, hey, I love a strong ground game. And the Cougars' deepest position on offense? I don't think anyone can doubt that running back is where it's at, with James Montgomery, Dwight Tardy and Logwone Mitz all in line for carries. Granted it's been more Montgomery and Tardy so far, but with Monty nursing a little swelling in his sprained knee, we may see more touches for Big Logwone. But aside from the run game, we have to get something going through the air. There is really only so much you can do if you can't throw the ball, know what I'm saying? They have to, have to, HAVE TO get production out of Marshall Lobbestael, and they need to get it early. If he isn't getting the job done, then go to the bullpen and call for Jeff Tuel, and start breaking in the young thoroughbred. Whatever. Just get some better results out of the QB position and stay committed to balance by throwing the ball.
But a new wrinkle is who, exactly, the QB's will be throwing to from now on. We've already lost one projected starter for the year in Kevin Norrell, suspended from the team for 2009. But now Jeshua Anderson has hung it up, making two of three expected big-time contributors coming into the season no longer in the locker room. The weight this week will now rest on the shoulders of Jared Karstetter, Daniel Blackledge and Jeffrey Solomon, while Gino Simone recovers from his concussion courtesy of Hawaii last Saturday. The receiving corps is starting to look awfully thin.
3) FINALLY, DON'T GET BURIED EARLY! Please? This is starting to be an alarming trend folks. It was ugly last year, when every single week it seemed WSU would fall behind big, and then lay down in the second half. But even though the calendar has flipped to 2009, they are still on this "slow start" mode. 22-3 at the half vs. Stanford in the first game, and 35-6 at the half vs. Hawaii, they haven't scored a TD in the first half in 2009. Want to go back even further? Do you know the last time WSU scored a TD in the first half of ANY game? Try Arizona on 11/8 last year. And hey, they got a couple of scores at Oregon State about a month before that, on 10/11. But that's about it. That means in their last nine football games, WSU has scored a total of three touchdowns in the first half. Three. Back in the old days, three TD's used to be a good quarter for the Jason Gesser/Ryan Leaf crowd. For a team that wants to be able to have an effective ground game, but a ground game that also helps set up the passing game by getting favorable match-ups in the secondary, they just can't afford to get behind early and taken out of their game plan.
So will any of this stuff actually happen? I believe some of it will, yes. I think number one, we'll see a better effort defensively. It will be similar to what WSU did vs. Hawaii last year, with multiple looks, multiple blitzes, etc. Co-dc's Chris Ball and Jody Sears are smart enough to know that they need to change things up. Now, the bad news is that some defensive faces are missing, faces that would make this a little bit easier. We don't know about Andy Mattingly officially, but if he does play, he certainly doesn't sound like he'll be 100%. We already know Kevin Kooyman is out of the lineup, and will be for a few more games with the knee injury. Louis Bland isn't 100% either, but at least he's expected to play. But the secondary is beaten down a bit right now, with LeAndre Daniels the latest casualty. And it's not like they won't try, I mean we all should really expect them to play spirited football for four quarters this week. But I don't believe they have enough horses to run with the Ponies.
And speaking of Ponies....these Ponies have a lot of weapons. Bo Levi Mitchell is quick and effective in the run-n-shoot, known for getting the ball out fast and not taking a lot of sacks. Even though he missed some practice this week with a rib injury, he is supposed to be fine by Saturday. And they are stacked at WR, with Emmanuel Sanders and Aldrick Robinson, two of the quick, big-play wideout types that gave the Cougar D fits last week. Those two have already combined for 27 catches in just two games this season. And oh yeah, they can run it a little bit too, with Shawnbrey McNeil up to 225 rushing yards and a pair of TD's, averaging 5.6 yards per carry in the process. This is going to be one very difficult offense to slow down.
I also believe Marshall Lobbestael will look his best since Portland State last year. He gets the keys to the car again, and we get to see what he can do from the very beginning instead of coming in and pitching some relief here and there. Let's see if he shows some of that potential he flashed last year that had so many people jacked up on Ocho Rojo as a redshirt frosh. Let's see what he does as THE GUY once again. If he fails, fine, get young Tuel in there and start the new era, but I'm legitimately excited to see how this thing plays out!
And this game, it isn't exactly Mission: Impossible. I mean SMU won one game in both 2007 and 2008, a 2-22 stretch. They've also rolled out an "O-fer" as recently in 2003, going an ugly 0-12. And SMU is favored in this game, by about a TD right now depending on where you look. Do you know the last time an SMU team was favored on the road against a BCS opponent? No, really, I'm asking. I have no idea. I actually went back and looked all the way back to 2002, and couldn't find a single instance where they were favored against any BCS, home or on the road. They were a one-point dog at Baylor in 2003, and no, they didn't cover in a 10-7 loss. And they were a one-point home dog vs. Baylor in 2005, and no, they didn't cover that either, losing 28-23.
But none of that matters this weekend. Heck, Hawaii had never beaten a BCS opponent away from home until Saturday! SMU simply makes more plays with better, faster athletes in a 36-24 victory.
Now onto this week's picks. Here's the updated standings through the first two Saturdays of 2009:
Sutra: 15-3, missing 3 games last week.
SeanHawk: 13-5, missing 4 games last week (ouch)
Hooty: 12-6, missing 5 games last week
Longball: 12-6, missing 4 games last week
Sean's PAC-10 picks:
CAL @ Minnesota - Golden Bears trample the Golden Gophers in that beautiful new stadium in Minnesota. Cal of last year probably loses this game. Not this team, not this year. Cal goes to Oregon next, and then the biggie, USC, so there MAY be a little sneaking a peek into the next couple of weekends? Nah. Golden Bears 44, Golden Gophers 27.
Arizona @ Iowa - This is will be your classic example of why the PAC-10 is better than the Big-10. It's not so much to just look at the top of the heap, like USC beating Ohio State, but it's often times these mid-tier teams that show you the most as far as which conference is better and/or deeper. Arizona's D carries the day again, as the Mildcats get a tough road win, 17-12.
Louisiana-Monroe @ ASU - I don't know. I really have no idea. Devils 31-13 sound about right?
Cincinnati @ Oregon State - Revenge time for the Beavs after 2007's 34-3 laugher on the road. The Rodgers boys do their thing, Sean Canfield plays efficiently (nothing like his horrible performance in '07 @ Cincy, where he threw for just 131 yards and had three INT's). Beavers slug it out, 33-20.
San Jose State @ Stanford - Maybe a trap game here? Stanford down in the dumps after getting hosed at Wake Forest (and Jimmy Harbaugh is still talking about it), makes you wonder where the focus is this week. The Cardinal win by the hair on their chin, 23-20.
UTAH @ Oregon - The Yucks can't lose at home to another non-BCS opponent again.....can they?? The Purdue win might have showed us more than even the Boise State game did, and that's this simple fact - Oregon isn't very good right now. They have issues on the O-line, and the defense minus Nick Reed rushing the passer and guys like Patrick Chung in the secondary just isn't the same. Utes sneak one out vs. the reeling Quack, 27-24.
Kansas State @ UCLA - Bill Snyder showing you can go home again after all, even at age 70. UCLA won ugly last week, but it's never easy to go into the south and win, especially vs. revenge-minded Tennessee. And that Bruin D is just loaded with athletes. It will be ugly, but UCLA wins it, 16-10.
USC @ UW - You know how I feel here....I HATE to do this....and I'm actually doing it to jinx it, to throw out the "goocher" and all that stuff.....but UW SHOCKS THE WORLD. Sark Juice runneth over in Husky Stadium as Jake Locker starts showing up on Heisman ballots with a super-strong performance. USC is beat up and worn out after last Saturday night in Columbus. Matt Barkley at possibly 50% with the bruised shoulder? Even Taylor Mays has a leg injury, and while he'll play, who knows what will happen there? The Huskies will have to play the perfect game, and get some major breaks in the process, but they find a way. UW does it, 26-23.
Brutal week for the Sutra last week. And now, over the past 28 Cougar Football games, I have been wrong twice—and both times against Hawaii. Curse that Tiki Medallion!!!!!
My soothsayer predictions:
WSU vs. SMU The good news is that WSU has held its opposition UNDER 40 points in both games this year! The even better news is that we are going to do the same this week!!! The problem, again, is scoring points. We just don’t have enough fire power—at least not yet. SMU 37 WSU 20.
MINN V. CAL. Upset special? I can’t “gopher” that (no can do). CAL 41 Minn 17.
USC v. UW. Dawgs cover, dawgs cover, dawgs cover. USC 24 UW 23. (What do they say, “a loss, is a loss, is a loss.”) Iowa v. Arizona. Kinda like watching the Titans play the Ravens—ugly time. Arizona 21 Iowa 12.
Stanford v. SJSU. Too much super G. Trees 31 San Jose St. 16
Iowa v. Arizona. Kinda like watching the Titans play the Ravens—ugly time. Arizona 21 Iowa 12.
Cinci v. Oregon State Canfield is a man on a mission. Here’s to saying that he makes another fourth quarter comeback stand up. Beavs 24 Bearcats 23.
KSU versus UCLA. Now we see how UCLA’s play should not be described as “offensive.” UCLA 14 KSU 3.
ASU versus Monroe. Man, can Dennis get a team ready for Georgia or what? ASU 38 ULM 10.
Quack versus National Champion Utes. Both teams are not as good as they were last year. But Oregon’s D is the lesser of the two. And for that reason, Ducks make sure that they are 1-3 headed into a night game with the Cougs. Utah 31 Oregon 27
Hello Cougar Nation and welcome to the Crimson and Gray version of Shakespearean melodrama/tragedy. Since Saturday's 1st quarter implosion against Hawaii the Cougs have changed starting QBs, announced the burning of their most highly touted freshman's red shirt and had the best and fastest athlete on the team hang up his spikes for good. No doubt the heat is on Coach Wulff and today Jim Sterk felt compelled to issue the dreaded declaration of support for his embattled head coach. If you even have to give one of those statements, things are not good. This week the Cougs will face an SMU team that was almost as bad as them last year, and they'll have to do it without a number of key players on an already gawd-awful defense. Kevin Kooyman - out, LeAndre Daniels - out, Aire Justin - out, Andy Mattingly - maybe out, and a few others on the two-deep out as well. So what do I see in my crystal ball? Two things:
- Marshal Lobestael's starting job will last about a quarter and a half before he is relieved by Jeff Tuel, who will go on to keep the job for the rest of his college career.
- The Cougs will lose 41 - 24 as the Mustangs make it look easy against the worst defense in college football.
CAL @ Minnesota - Bears 48, Gophers 21
I am done picking against Cal, but they won't get 50 for the 3rd straight week in the Gopher's shiny new stadium.
Arizona @ Iowa - Zona 24, Iowa 20
I dunno, I just feel like Ferentz is one of the most consistent underachievers in all of football.
Louisiana-Monroe @ ASU - Devils 35, War Hawks 17
This should be a scrimmage if ASU is any good this year.
Cincinnati @ Oregon State - Bearcats 31, Beavs 28
I'm not sold on the Beavs yet.
San Jose State @ Stanford - Trees 34, Spartans 10
Spartans look better against Stanford than the Cougs did... at Stanford.
UTAH @ Oregon - Utes 38, Ducks 28
The Duck offense looks confused.
Kansas State @ UCLA - Wildcats 24, Bruins 17
Big emotional win last week + injuries + suspensions = set-back loss for UCLA
USC @ UW - Dawgs 42, Trojans 38 OT
Perfect set-up for a stunner, a Trojan team still tingling from their win in the Shoe with a mix-up at QB playing on the road against a confident team with a coach who knows what they will do. I don't know how the Husky defense will stop the Trojans, but a first time starter at QB sure helps.
Tennesee @ Florida - Gators 100, Vols 3
Only a Cougar win on saturday would make me happier than a Tennessee upset of Florida (Would Tebow make another "promise"?). Of course, I also want to travel to Mars before my 35th birthday, win the lottery and start at point guard for Coach Bone this year. Ain't gonna happen.
Thats all for this week Coug fans. Enjoy the games and GO COUGS!