Despite the fact they've played eight games already this season, Washington State remains a week-to-week mystery, at least for me. There are some basics we know. The Cougars are going to put the ball in the air and they are an inherently flawed team. At the same time, however, they are also a team that's proven it can stick a temporary bandage on those flaws, you just never know which will be fixed and for how long.
With that in mind, here are three questions I have heading into the game against the Trojans.
1. Can the WSU defense keep up with USC's superior athletes?
The Cougar secondary is obviously an issue. Whether it's problems of youth and inexperience or just talent remains a question, but either way the Cougars go into every game with an obvious weakness to exploit. When that happens, the scoreboard starts going in the wrong direction like it did against Cal and Arizona. The deficiency can be hidden against teams with a sub-par passing attack, but that's not the Trojans. USC averages 8.0 yards per pass attempt and will likely challenge the Cougars down the field. If WSU is going to have any hope other than to win a 60-59 game, it will need to find a way to get stops.
Gut feeling: Hide your kids, hide your spouse, they are scoring touchdowns every drive.
2. Will the Cougar offense be able to keep pace?
At this point WSU's best shot of winning is try to score at least 50 points and hope the other team has to kick a field goal or two. That's a lot to put on the offense and so far this season, it's struggled to reach that level. The Cougars scored 37 points against Arizona which is a lot of points, but at least a touchdown or two shy of where they need to be. The matchup is an interesting one. Stanford has always been a challenge for the Cougars, but USC and Washington also stifled Connor Halliday and the passing attack last year. USC has a lot of the same athletes from a year ago -- including Leonard Williams -- and former Washington defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox is running the defense. If Halliday tops 400 yards, the Cougar offense will have come a long way.
Gut feeling: The passing attack will be better because Halliday is simply a better player. It won't be efficient enough, however, to really rack up points. I can't see the Cougars topping 40.
3. Can WSU wear down USC?
That seems like an odd question to ask about this Washington State team. When you think of a team wearing another down, it's probably a Stanford-like team. WSU's biggest advantage on Saturday may simply be depth. The Trojans have superior athletes in a number of spots, but a short depth chart. With only 45 scholarship athletes, USC is not deep. The Cougars' best bet may be to pick up the tempo a touch and try to run as many plays as possible. Maybe eventually they will wear the Trojans down -- at least in the secondary -- and be able to hit some explosives.
Gut feeling: Yes but not enough. If this were earlier in the season, I'd like WSU's chances better based on the sheer number of routes. WSU isn't exactly healthy at receiver right now, however, so I'm not sure it will get the wear down advantage. The Cougars have been forced to dip way into receiver depth in recent weeks and the drop off has been drastic. It's great if Vince Mayle or River Cracraft can go against a tired corner, but when it's a walk-on on the field, it's still not a mismatch.
Those are three areas I'll be watching on Saturday, what burning questions do you have heading into the game?
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