The most important person vs. Southern Utah: The offensive line

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

This week, it's a group of guys who function as one and if any of them fail, everything goes haywire.

It’s mid-September but for the first time in the 2013 college football season, the Washington State Cougars will be playing a home game. The friendly confines of Martin Stadium have never looked so friendly, especially to a team who we thought would be winless coming into their home opener (thanks Damante Horton!).

Speaking just for myself, this team is ahead of where I thought they’d be by now. I didn’t think they’d hang with Auburn and look like the better team and I certainly didn’t think they’d walk away winners in the Coliseum*. All in all, as the team gets ready to play amongst the rolling hills of the Palouse for first time this year, I’m more pleased than I thought I’d be with their performance.

*Note: for everyone who dislikes Lane Kiffin so strongly and would like to see that smug feminine hygiene product fired, please email me for a place to send all appreciative muffin baskets.

Granted, we haven’t really seen a complete game from both sides of the ball and, rather than being discouraging, I’m somewhat encouraged that WSU was able to beat a pretty decent USC Trojans team without everything clicking just right. The offense didn’t just look inept; they were completely sterile. It took a defensive touchdown and a glamorous field goal to beat USC. Connor Halliday is still having his issues but he’s already grabbed our most important person honor this season.

This week, against an FCS team WSU should take very seriously in Southern Utah, one unit will have a chance to iron out some problems. If this team wants to surprise some team in Pac-12 play, the offensive line will need to consistently be one of the best WSU can trot out on the field.

Hey, hey there guy, you might be saying and hopefully not out loud, the offensive line isn’t a person. There are five guys up there. That’s like, four or so more than the one person that should be most important in your title. I WON’T STAND FOR THIS SWINDLING GOLDEN THROAT!

Well, person who I invented to take up a little page space, I can certainly justify why the offensive line as a unit qualifies for such an honor. When the ball is snapped and the play begins say receiver doesn’t run his route right, a running back doesn’t hit the right gap or a quarterback starts progression incorrectly. Sometimes there isn’t an issue because the receiver isn’t thrown to, the running back breaks free or the quarterback completes the pass anyway.

But if the offensive line doesn’t function with near perfection on each and every down, disaster can ensue. We’ve bled a lot of digital ink highlights Halliday’s issues with his decision making and where he throws the football even when he has enough time to knit a sweater. But without ample seconds to scan the field properly, footballs fly places they shouldn’t to players wearing the wrong color uniforms.

If just one of the five players misses his blocking assignment, Halliday is left running for his life or, as another author put it last week, able to drop out of his botany classes since he’s spending so much time in the grass. A bad block and a ball carrier is down in the back field.

And it’s not as if playing offensive line is an easy job. There’s a reason why whenever you an interview a big hoss they sound like the smartest guy on the field and it’s because they usually are. Checking into a run or pass and instantly knowing the new blocking assignment and trusting the guy on your hip to know what he’s doing as well certainly isn’t an easy occupation. Then, you have to capable of being big and strong enough to block guys who are you size but quick and nimble enough to stop someone who you might have 100 pounds on.

It’s not critical that the offensive line play a flawless game against Southern Utah for Washington State to emerge victorious. But if the offensive line is as improved as we believe they are, we shouldn’t see Halliday (or Apodaca if the game gets out of hand) under duress. Running lanes should be wide enough to drive a semi-truck through and any sacks or tackles for a loss inside the tackles should be held to a minimum, hopefully zero.

So far this season, the Cougs have won with defense, something we certainly didn’t expect under Mike Leach. Seeing every facet of the Air Raid click and run like a well-oiled machine against a team it should run as such against would be a welcome change. For that to happen this week, it all starts with the big uglies up front.

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