The first gameday of 2017 is finally here for the Washington State Cougars. For the third-straight season, WSU will open up on Labor Day weekend at home against a Big Sky opponent. Today, the Cougs will try to reverse the trend of those last two opening-day losses when they face the Montana State Bobcats.
Despite dropping the final three games of 2016, including a lackluster performance against Minnesota in the Holiday Bowl, WSU enters 2017 ranked No. 24 in the AP Top 25, its first preseason ranking since 2002. Montana State is not ranked in the preseason FCS Top 25, but it did receive 6 points in the poll, placing at No. 50 after a 4-7 finish in 2016.
Is it possible for WSU to learn nothing from past openers and fall flat on its face against an outmatched opponent again? If that does happen, CougCenter’s Brian Anderson says it will probably be on the feet (not the arm) of Montana State quarterback Chris Murray:
The Cougs have had a recent track record of trouble with running quarterbacks. Somehow they manage to get lost in the Speed D run fits. That isn’t lost on Coach Grinch, who told Theo Lawson of the Spokesman Review that he views Murray as more one-dimensional, and the Cougs won’t have to worry as much about the passing threat as they did with EWU’s Gage Gubrud or CU’s Sefo Liufau last season.
Apropos of nothing, Murray completed 10-13 pass attempts with no interceptions for 192 yards and 2 TDs in their most recent scrimmage. He rushed six times for 16 yards.
How might Montana State use Murray to attack WSU’s “Speed D?” Jesse Cassino broke down some Bobcat tape, and it sounds like the spice of life is in the cards:
On Saturday night, expect a lot of different formations from Montana State. For one, it’s what they want to do offensively. For two, it being Week 1 and WSU not having seen them on film, they might be able to catch the Cougs misaligned and exploit that. Watching this MSU-UCD game, I unofficially counted about thirteen different formations in their first fifteen plays. Murray will be on the run, certainly by design, and preferably because the Coug D is getting home and causing havoc in the backfield.
Okay, so now that we’ve run down why the Cougs might pull off a three-peat of FCS losses, why might they win and break the opening-day curse? First off, there’s senior quarterback Luke Falk throwing to Tavares Martin, Jr. There’s the deeper-than-you-could-ever-imagine stable of four dynamic WSU running backs. There’s a monstrous WSU offensive line anchored by All-American Cody O’Connell. Oh, and on the other side, have fun with Hercules Mata’afa.
So, WSU can’t lose to an FCS team again, right? To find out, here’s how you can follow along:
Game time: 7:30 p.m. PT
TV channel: FS1
Stream: Fox Sports Go (log-in required)