The Washington State Cougars kick off their 2022 football campaign when they host the Idaho Vandals in Pullman on Saturday evening (6:30 pm PT, Pac-12 Networks). This marks the 92nd meeting between the two Palouse schools, but the first since 2016.
That game was a 56-6 victory in favor of WSU, leaving the Cougs’ all-time record in the rivalry 72-16-3. That 2016 game is most notable because it marks the day that two of my friends became more than friends (in Pullman), and now they are married and have a kid and all that adult stuff. Big day!
In the past, these game previews have been very stat-heavy, with 1200-1500 words of in-depth analysis. I’m bored with that, so those previews are dead. Now, my intention is to be much less informative and also save a little time for all involved. I’ll be going with a more rapid-fire style this season.
With that, let’s get into the preview. First, we look at the most interesting thing about the opposing team.
The Most Interesting Thing About the Vandals
Idaho has a new coach with a name that sounds like something you’d blurt out when surprised. His name is Jason Eck, and he did have one Eck of a career as an assistant at South Dakota State. WSU will be his first game as a head coach. That’s an Eck of an introduction.
Another Interesting Thing About the Vandals
The Idaho coaching staff has not announced who will start at quarterback against Washington State on Saturday. J’Bore Gibbs transferred from South Dakota State and has starting experience, so he would seem like an obvious choice, but he has missed the last two seasons with ACL injuries. Gevani McCoy and CJ Jordan are also competing for the starting job, each saw limited action last season.
Idaho Will Run
Last season, South Dakota State ran 58% of the time with Eck as its offensive coordinator. Idaho ran it on 60% of plays. The Cougs should expect to see a heavy dose of Roshaun Johnson and Aundre Carter, especially early in the game.
Idaho’s Defense is Probably Not Good
Eck is an offensive-minded head coach, and it seems unlikely the Vandals will suddenly turn around from last season when they gave up 98 points in their two FBS matchups and allowed Eastern Washington to drop 70. The Cougar offense may start slowly with new personnel and a new offense, but Idaho’s defense should be a soft landing for Cam Ward and crew.
How WSU Can Win
The Cougars will have the significant talent advantage all over the field. If they avoid game-changing plays, such as Idaho return touchdowns and defensive touchdowns, then WSU should be able to win easily.
How WSU Can Win Big
This is the most important question. A close Wazzu win won’t feel great, so how do the Cougs make the crimson-clad Labor Day weekend crowd happy? Lots of three-and-outs on defense, lots of big plays on offense. A huge first half from Ward in the passing game would go a long way—the ideal would be to see the backups in the fourth quarter. Nakia Watson and the other WSU running backs matter here too—if the Cougs amass a big lead, they will likely run more often. If they can make some chunk plays in the ground game, that could add a couple scores and make this thing a big laugher. If you go back to the 2016 win, it was a dominant ground game that pushed the margin to 50.
How Idaho Can Win
The ultimate disaster scenario for WSU includes many turnovers, like four or more with multiple taken back for touchdowns. It also involves defensive mistakes—blown coverages and missed tackles leading to quick strikes for Idaho. If the Vandals have to grind drives, it won’t go well for them. Big plays will keep them in the game.
It took all week, but the Battle of the Palouse finally has a point spread, and it’s a big one. The Cougs check in as 28.5-point favorites with an over/under of 56.5 on DraftKings.* So, Vegas is looking at a score around 42-14 with one point making all the difference. That sounds about right. That’s also a lot of points to cover for a team with a new offense.
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Does the Winner Actually Gain Control of the Palouse?
No. This is a metaphorical battle for the Palouse region. Each school will maintain their currently owned land regardless of who comes out on top. In terms of bragging rights, nothing much is added for WSU if the Cougs win. However, if Idaho wins, Vandal fans will never let Wazzu hear the end of it. That’s what is actually on the line here.