Washington State Preview

Perhaps a little hometown cooking can help turnaround Washington State's recent fortunes as the Cougars finally return home and are searching for their first post-season appearance since 2003. They boast a 2-0 record against ranked Sun Devil teams in Pullman and would love nothing more than to get the season back on track with a win over #18 Arizona State on Saturday.

WASHINGTON STATE COUGARS

Head Coach: Bill Doba

2007 Record: 2-3, 0-2 Pac-10

Last Week: The Cougars wrapped up the unfriendly road trip with a visit to Tucson as they fell to the Arizona Wildcats, 48-20.

OFFENSE

*Projected Starters

WR Charles Dillon, Sr.
LT Vaugh Lesuma, Jr.
LG Bobby Byrd, Sr.
C Kenny Alfred, So.
RG Dan Rowlands, Jr.
RT Micah Hannam, Fr.
TE Jed Collins, Sr.
QB Alex Brink, Sr.
RB Dwight Tardy, So.
WR Michael Bumpus, Sr.
WR Brandon Gibson, Jr.

Junior Brandon Gibson leads a cluster of receivers for Wazzu with five touchdowns on thirty-four receptions this year. Gibson is averaging over 97 yards per game and is someone the defense must account for on every snap. Michael Bumpus and Charles Dillon round out the group of receivers and have a combined fifty catches and five scores between them. Keep an eye on tight end Jed Collins, who already has three touchdowns this year, as the Cougars also like to utilize him in the passing game. Oregon State had success with the tight end two weeks ago so you can expect Wazzu to look up Collins several times this Saturday.

The ground game hasn't packed as much of a punch this year with the Cougars managing just 64 and 71 rushing yards respectively against conference foes USC and Arizona. Dwight Tardy is the feature back and brings in a 79.2 yard average into Saturday's game. The sophomore has scored four times on 82 carries. Sophomore Chris Ivory and senior Kevin McCall can back-up Tardy and, between the two ball-carriers, they have netted a total of 153 yards and one touchdown.

Featured Match up: Alex Brink vs. Arizona State secondary

The signal-caller is a veteran player capable of putting up big numbers in just about any game. Brink, who is on pace to become the school's most prolific passer in history, was limited to just 161 yards last year in Tempe but a repeat of that would be unlikely. He's averaging just over 291 yards per game this season and has thrown for fifteen touchdowns and four interceptions. There's little doubt that Brink is the most talented quarterback ASU will have faced so far this season and with some accomplished targets to throw the rock to, this shapes up to be a very big test for the Maroon & Gold's pass defense.

DEFENSE

*Projected Starters

DE Kevin Kooyman, So.
DT Ropati Pitoitua, Sr.
DT A'i Ahmu, Jr.
DE Matt Mullenix, Sr.
SLB Cory Evans, Jr.
MLB Greg Trent, Jr.
WLB Andy Mattingly, So.
FS Husain Abdullah, Sr.
SS Christian Bass, Sr.
CB Chima Nwachukwu, Fr.
CB Devin Giles, So.

The Cougar defense is in a state of disarray after two conference road games, in which they gave up a total of 95 points, have them searching for some answers. Junior A'i Ahmu is the new starter at tackle in place of senior Aaron Johnson. The Cougars are hoping the combination of Ahmu and Ropati Pitoitua at the two tackle spots can help spark things up front with Johnson added to the rotation off the bench. Pitoitua paces the tackle group with fifteen stops. Sophomore defensive end Kevin Kooyman leads the Cougar pass rush with three sacks.

Wazzu's secondary is surrendering an average of just over 290 passing yards per contest and things may get worse with the recent injury of Alfonso Jackson. Senior Christian Bass and sophomore Xavier Hicks are penciled in to shore up the loss of Jackson, the team's second leading tackler, at strong safety. Husain Abdullah's experience at free safety does help but the success of the pass defense will likely rely on young corners Chima Nwachukwu and Devin Giles. Both players have an interception and a combined five pass break ups this season.

Featured Match up: Washington State Linebackers vs. Arizona State running backs

Both USC and Arizona each gained over 200 yards on the ground against the Cougars. Things need to shore up fast as Arizona State will also look to move the chains with Ryan Torain and Keegan Herring. Weak side linebacker Kendrick Dunn went out with an injury last week at Arizona so sophomore Andy Mattingly is expected to start in his place. Mattingly does have experience in his first two seasons and has notched twenty-two stops off the bench in 2007. Greg Trent is the unit's leader in the middle and boasts a team-leading total of forty-seven tackles so far. Junior Cory Evans has added twenty-five tackles on the strong side.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P Reid Forrest, Fr.
PK Romeen Abdollmohammadi, Sr.

PR Michael Bumpus, Sr.
KOR Charles Dillon, Sr.

Special teams has been a bit of a sore spot this season in the Palouse. The 29.48 yard team average currently ranks 111th in the NCAA and Darryl Blunt's recent suspension hasn't made things any better. Freshman Reid Forrest, who is averaging 35.4 yards, is now the feature punter. Forrest's longest punt this season went for 44 yards. Wide receiver Michael Bumpus has also doubled as the punter in the past and rolls out with the option to run or kick the ball depending on the look he gets from the defense. Place kicker Romeen Abdollmohammadi did not attempt a field goal in the Cougars' last two games. The senior is 2 of 4 on field goals this season, with both makes coming from 31 yards out.

Michael Bumpus, who is one of the more dangerous punt returners in the league, has yet to break out for a big return this season. The senior is averaging just 1.7 yards on six punt returns so far. Fellow receiver Charles Dillon has found a little more success returning kicks. Dillon has a 23.4 yard average and his longest return of the season went for 48 yards.

Keys to Victory for Washington State

-Big plays with Brink: The way to move the sticks against the Sun Devils is through the air and there's no question that plays into the strength of the Cougar offense with Brink at the helm. Take what the defense is giving you and that may be in the form of Michael Bumpus and Charles Dillon matched up against true freshman corner Omar Bolden of Arizona State. As mentioned above, tight end Jed Collins may be the X-factor as the Sun Devils haven't covered the tight end well.

-Solid special teams: The Cougars can't afford more botched snaps, shanked punts, and things of that nature, especially since those things typically put even more pressure on the defense. A big play or two from Michael Bumpus, whether it be on the rollout option as the punter or doubling as the punt returner.

-Get after Carpenter: The Sun Devils have had recent pass protection issues as they've allowed ten sacks in the last two games. There's little doubt that opponents will continue to blitz until ASU can protect better with some regularity. The Cougars are short one blitz option in linebacker Kendrick Dunn, who is doubtful this week due to injury, however.

Keys to Victory for Arizona State

-Get off to a fast start: Is this the week that the offense can finally find an early rhythm? Let's hope so as it takes on an even greater importance on the road. If the Sun Devils want to send a message early then they cannot continue to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns as they did last week at Stanford.

-Protect Carpenter: Another common theme this week after Stanford sacked the Devils' signal-caller six times a week ago. Adjustments were made and perhaps some personnel changes can lead to more success this week. The running backs must be able to pick up the blitz better, as well.

-Pressure Brink: The senior can't torch the pass defense as well if he can't go through his reads. With true freshman Omar Bolden penciled in to make his second start in as many games, a pass rush would surely be welcomed as the secondary will be tested with Wazzu's stable of receivers. Junior defensive end Luis Vasquez had his best game yet last week against the Cardinal.

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