The Tailgater's Guide to Cougar Football is a weekly series, published every Thursday, designed to prepare you for the upcoming week's matchup - both on and off the field.
Washington State Cougars (1-1, 0-0 Pacific 10) at Southern Methodist Mustangs (1-1, 1-0 Conference USA)
Gerald Ford Stadium; Dallas, TX. 12:30 p.m. Pacific.
Television - CBS College Sports
Radio - Cougar Sports Radio Network
WSU 30, SMU 27 (OT) (2009)
Why You Should Care
We've seen the Cougs at their worst - a drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma State. We've seen the Cougs at their, um, best? Well, we saw the Cougs win. Which is better than the Cougs losing. Especially to a FCS team, in Montana State (no offense Bobcats, it's just we still expect to win those).
Now we get to see where the Cougars are trending.
After this game we'll have reached the quarter point of the season. Enough to make some solid opinions about the direction this team is heading. It could be up - even if the Cougs lose. A competitive game against SMU would go a long way to show the Cougs are still fighting for pride and their embattled head coach. It could also show that the confidence from the previous week's win, and the previous year's win over the Mustangs, has carried on into the fall of 2010. The score will matter a lot to Coug fans. We want to see a close game against a FBS opponent, and stealing a win would give this team a 2-1 record and a truckload of hope heading into the Pac-10 slate.
Then, there's the alternative. If the Cougs get drubbed 76-6, our fractured fanbase will get even uglier over on the ol' Cougfan forums. It's going to be hot in Dallas: the Cougs could melt under both the heat and the pressure of keeping their season afloat (although at least they aren't staring down the barrel of 0-12, which is a very good thing). SMU's talent level and recent history speak to that of a lower to mid-tier Pac-10 team; exactly the kind of team WSU needs to be able to put up a fight with. How disheartening would it be - after all this team has been through - to see this team get run out of Gerald Ford Stadium without landing a few punches of their own?
Nobody wins when a team is losing. Just look at the Mariners this season. Blame gets tossed around like a hot potato from person to person before it lands on the floor and splatters; and let's be honest, nobody wants to eat floor potato. One area I feel touchy about is when blame gets shifted to the "media" - as if the media is one singular unit out to accomplish some goal. The media is as fragmented and blurry now as it has ever been. There's mainstream media: TV, newspapers and such, and then there's 'new media': the internet and blogs. Blogs are unique in that they are the voice of the fan. And just like a normal fan on the street, sometimes fans are incredibly stupid, and sometimes they know what they're talking about. We strive for the latter, as does every other Coug blog I've come across over the past couple years. So it kind of irks me when we're lumped in with message boards (where commenters have a million different points of view) as some kind of driving source of Coug negativity.
There's a time and place for constructive criticism, as well as supporting the program. But I honestly believe the players on our team our smart enough not to quit when they read a negative thing on the internet. Just like I also don't believe we're a fanbase that should be content about losing. If Paul Wulff and Bill Moos don't like the negativity swirling around the program, shut it off by winning on the field - just like last week. Please. Do it. I don't think any of us will complain.
Oh, and I also think Mariner president Chuck Armstrong should be fired and cast off to an island or ice floe somewhere in Nunavut. But that's not really Coug-related.
Key Matchup - Kyle Padron versus the WSU secondary
I was hoping to find a unique angle to this game, but the fact is we're still dealing with pass-happy June Jones. And even with Chima Nwachukwu battered and a game-time decision for Saturday, the WSU defensive backfield is tasked with the responsibility of keeping this game winnable for the offense. Deone Bucannon, a true freshman, may have to step up and take Nwachukwu's place. The other corners and safeties need to keep things in front of them and prevent the Ponies from running away with the game through big plays and missed tackles. It's a lot easier said than done.
Kyle Padron, SMU - I want to choose role players, but this matchup just keeps leading me back to the quarterbacks. Padron could have a career day this Saturday. Or: he could pull a Bo Levi Mitchell and toss the ball right back to the defense. One area WSU has improved upon substantially since Wulff's first year is the ability to create turnovers. Missed passes and interceptions could doom SMU to a disappointing home loss.
Jeff Tuel, WSU - I honestly believe if the Cougs win this game it will be because Tuel has a statement game. Craig's preview talked about SMU's stout run defense this fall. But the Mustangs' pass defense has left something to be desired, and Tuel is stocked with plenty of talent at wideout. Not to mention the fans all around the Cougar nation calling for more stretching of the field. This from an offense already averaging 7.1 yards per pass attempt. If Todd Sturdy is feeling the heat, he may go to a successful former-Pac-10 offensive coordinator on his staff for help - Mike Levenseller. And we all know how much success the Cougs had putting the ball in the air when Levenseller was heading up the offense.
Why WSU Might Win - Call it a combination of luck, Jeff Tuel and a team playing to try and help their coach stay off the hot seat.
Why SMU Might Win - It's easy to look at the same style of passing game that shredded the Cougs apart last season when they played Hawaii. But the Ponies are surprisingly balanced so far to the tune of 5.56 yards per rushing attempt and 5.4 yards per pass. The former is 27th best in the country. Meanwhile the Cougs still sit near the bottom of the country in rush defense at 5.59 yards surrendered per attempt (surprise, surprise). If Padron doesn't get us, I'm afraid the rushing game will still carry the Mustangs to victory.
Recommended Local Activity - Cowboys Stadium
Cowboys Stadium offers tours, which is how my less-than-one-year-old niece got to see the modern marvel before I will (not that I'm bitter or anything). Tours are cheaper than seeing a NFL game there, and you get to have your mind blown by what is arguably the most impressive stadium in the world. Although not the most expensive. New Yorkers should be coming out of their office buildings with torches and pitchforks protesting the fact that a larger sum of money bought them such a boring and generic stadium in New Meadowlands.
Recommended Food - Nick & Sam's. A confession: I haven't been to Dallas. However, this is supposed to be one of the best steakhouses in a state that's world famous for steak and barbeque. So I'm betting you can't go wrong here.
The More You Know - Gerald Ford, president and naming rights recipient for SMU's stadium, was actually born under the name Leslie Lynch King, Jr.
Trader Joe's Gametime Snack of the Week presented by Trader Joe's - [author's note: we actually don't receive any money or favors from Trader Joe's. But I'm hoping that they will, in the form of sending me free stuff and/or coupons or gift certificates for me endorsing their food here on CougCenter. Trader Joe's reps, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, subject line: free food for Grady]
Trader Joe's Chocolate Croissants - A two-part experience. One, you get to set them out the night before and then gaze in awe as to how much they've risen by morning. Two, they are incredibly delicious. Maybe not traditional football food, but I don't care.
Gametime Beer of the Week - Dogfish Head Punkin Ale. Ring in the fall with beer crafted with a nice bit of pumpkin flavor. I had this at the Flying Goat in Spokane (awesome pub by the way off Northwest Boulevard) last weekend and came away blown away by my first Dogfish Head experience. Excellent ale.
It's also Dogfish Head's original beer and "bestest selling seasonal"!
Prediction - Southern Methodist 38, Washington State 17.
I feel the same way about this game that I did about the OK State game. Could be a blowout, but could also be close. That tends to make me think we're in for another blowout.
The only guarantee is that Reid Forrest is a better punter than your punter.
Enjoy the game, and as always, Go Cougs.