If Washington State could have stopped the run at all last year, they probably would have won this game. That's why it's our reason for concern for this football team.
ESPN.com's Ted Miller has been running a series called "Hope & Concern" that has been hitting his Pac-12 blog while he's been on vacation the last couple of weeks. Yesterday, he tackled the Cougars.
His reason for hope? Should be pretty obvious, but here it is anyway: Jeff Tuel and the receivers.
Tuel put up his numbers with an inferior supporting cast compared to those three. But not that inferior, which is the key element for hope looking forward. ... With four starters back on an improving line, the Cougars should be able to give Tuel time. And if he gets time, the Cougs should be able to pass on just about anyone.
Tough to argue with that. I think we're all hanging our hats there.
His reason for concern? The legacy left by getting their collective faces kicked in for the last three years:
This team needs more than a chip on its shoulder. It needs confidence. After three years of being the conference patsy -- the one game every team automatically put in the win column in August -- it won't be easy for this team to swagger into a stadium and believe it's the best team on the field.
If you've been around here for any length of time, you know I put a lot less stock in things like "heart" and "confidence" than most people. I don't think they're non-existent by any means, I just don't find much value in speculating about things that are impossible to measure. However, I think it became clear over the last few years that those things do matter, especially with the way some of the upperclassmen appeared to roll over in Paul Wulff's first two years. So I do get where Miller is coming from.
However, I'm not sure I'd totally concur with him. This is a team that went toe to toe with Oregon in Pullman. This is a team that went into Corvallis, one of the tougher places in the conference to play, and beat Oregon State. This is a team that was a freakish Jake Locker pass away from at least overtime against Washington.
This team might have lacked the ability to put itself over the top in a number of contests, but I'm not sure confidence was the issue.
At any rate, if I was to pick my reason for concern? I'd say the team's ability to stop the run. We know Tuel can be reasonably effective even while under duress, so while it'd be nice to have a better offensive line, I don't find it super critical on a team with a lot of problems. Stopping the run, however? At minimum, the Cougs would have won two more games last year if they could have done that.
The linebackers should be better, with C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi a year older and stronger, and Alex Hoffman-Ellis a year older and (God willing) smarter. The defensive line should be better, especially up the middle with Anthony Laurenzi and Toni Pole. But it's a huge question mark.
What are your reasons for hope and concern with this team?