You might be wondering why I don't just call these "Keys To The Game," as many others do with this sort of thing. The explanation is pretty simple, and gets back to my nature as a person more interested in process (at least at this stage of rebuilding) rather than results.
There will be a day when all I care about is whether we win or lose. Those days will be when we are once again fighting for conference championships, ostensibly because the process has run its course in previous years. We're obviously not there yet. So while I want us to win each game, I'm just as interested in seeing how we're progressing toward that championship level.
Those are the things I'm looking for right now. This weekend, that includes these five things:
Blocker-absorbing play from the defensive tackles. It appears WSU may finally have found its space-eating, wrecking ball of a nose tackle in Toni Pole. He commanded double teams against UNLV, and I'm being honest when I say I'm not really sure I remember who the last guy was who fit that bill. That kind of a guy makes a huge difference, allowing the guys next to him to only have to win one-on-one battles and letting linebackers roam free. Against Ronnie Hillman, that's going to be paramount. We don't yet know how much Pole's knee injury will slow him; if the answer is "not much," then WSU has a chance to contain Hillman. Anthony Laurenzi will need to do that when he rotates in for Pole as well.
- Sure tackling from the linebackers. Hillman is fast. Hillman is slippery. And that combination means that a blown tackle will lead to a long touchdown. The linebackers have met every challenge put before them this year; if they do a great job containing Hillman -- who has as much big-play ability as anyone left on WSU's schedule -- I'll be on that bandwagon just like I'm on this one.
- The offensive line not missing a beat. The five guys up front have been awesome, and one has to wonder how much of that has to do with continuity. That continuity is going to be tested tomorrow, as Andrew Roxas will miss the game with an injured ankle. Junior college transfer Taylor Meighan, who's been in the program since last spring, will take his place. There was a little bit of a competition between he and Roxas, so he's gotten time with the ones; in addition to that, he was originally an Air Force commit, so you figure he's pretty smart. I'll be looking for a seamless transition.
- Rickey Galvin holding up over 15-plus carries. Galvin's got 12 carries total. I'm almost certain he'll eclipse that tomorrow. Can he put up with a little bit of a pounding on his 5-foot-8, 172-pound frame? I think so, but I want to see him looking as explosive on carry No. 16 as he was on carry No. 1.
- A continued steady hand from Marshall Lobbestael. This will most likely be a recurring theme until Jeff Tuel returns. It's all but a given that Lobbestael will be pressured more tomorrow than he has been in the previous two games, and he must hold up to that with no more than one turnover. The windows will also probably be smaller tomorrow, so the margin for error will be smaller.
Those are my five. What are yours?
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