A. There have been a number of issues surrounding the team this season. The coaches claim that the team lacks fire, goes out on the weekends, and are not giving their best effort. On the other hand, some of the coaches have come out and publicly criticized some of the players this year, throwing them ‘under the bus' from time to time. Either way, there seems to be a clear divide amongst some players and some coaches. It will be interesting to see how the team comes out and responds this week against a tough UCLA squad.
As far as actual on the field obstacles go, the running game has been one of the team's biggest problems. The college football world has now witnessed eight performances where a team has rushed for negative yardage this season-Washington State claims four. In order for the Cougs to finish strong, they'll have to establish a consistent ground game to take the pressure off the pass.
That being said, the offensive line has been reflecting poorly upon this team all year. The Cougs are next to last nationally in sacks allowed, with 4.44 per game. The line is thin, but that really is no excuse for the lackluster performances they've put together in 2012.
Q. This week, there have been rumors flying about receiver Marquess Wilson and his status on the team. What's the latest?
A. According to Washington State officials, Wilson has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. However, according to two personal sources, Wilson has quit the team. Wilson is the all-time leading receiver at Washington State, so his absence cannot be overstated.
Wednesday afternoon, athletic director Bill Moos spoke with Wilson and said he plans to speak with him again next week. From here, we'll see where things go, but all signs point to the door not being completely shut for the preseason All-American.
Q. What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the Cougars in facing UCLA?
A. UCLA poses a number of challenges that the Cougs must be prepared to face. First and foremost, they will have to buckle down and stop Johnathan Franklin. The Cougs have been hit or miss this season against the run; they completely shutdown Stepfan Taylor and the Stanford Cardinal running game, but were torched by both California and Utah in recent weeks. If the Cougs can make the Bruins one dimensional, it will go a long ways toward staying in the game late in the second half.
Q. UCLA is full of offensive playmakers, including QB Brett Hundley and RB Johnathan Franklin. Will the inexperienced Washington State secondary be exploited by this offense?
A. Washington State's secondary has shown promise throughout the year. Junior safety Deone Bucannon is an All Pac-12 candidate and leads the team with four interceptions. At cornerback, the Cougs have been shuffling their cards all season, trying to find a good combination to stymie the opposition. As of right now, senior Daniel Simmons and junior Anthony Carpenter have the nod and have played decently this year.
The biggest question is whether or not the Cougs will be able to stop the Brett Hundley to Joseph Fauria connection. Fauria, in my opinion, is one of the top redzone targets in the country and finds space really well for a big guy. If the Cougs intend to take away the UCLA run game, blanketing both Fauria and junior Shaquelle Evans will be vital in keeping the game close.
Q. Who are some of the under-the-radar players who have been making an impact for the Cougs this season?
A. Youth has served a vital role in any and all success the Cougs have found this year. On the defensive line, freshman Xavier Cooper and JUCO transfer Ioane Gauta have both been very good at getting pressure on the quarterback, as well as stopping the run. Both have bright futures and should be mainstays in the defense for the next couple years.
The aforementioned Bucannon has been a defensive cornerstone this season and has taken a leadership role in an extremely young, inexperienced secondary. On the linebacking corps, senior Travis Long has 7.5 sacks and has been tabbed as the leader of the team, as coaches rave about Long's effort day-in and day-out. He'll give it all on every play, and will routinely be involved in the play.
On offense, true freshmen wideouts Brett Bartolone and Gabe Marks have been very hard workers this season and have put up good numbers throughout the year. Bartolone plays the ‘Wes Welker' position in the Mike Leach offense, while Marks stretches the field regularly.
Q. We're entering Week 11 of the season and the Cougs are still using a dual-quarterback system. Who do you think will get the starting nod this weekend?
A. Senior Jeff Tuel will get the call once again this weekend, though he's on a short leash. If Tuel again underperforms, expect to see sophomore Connor Halliday at some point during the game. The coaches have been back and forth all year on who should take the reins of this team, yet neither has been able to stake his claim and permanently seize the position. Tuel is a good quarterback and has been a leader on the team since his freshman year, though most desire more from a quarterback who's promise just a few years ago was seemingly through the roof.
Q. Will the extreme temperatures forecasted for Pullman this weekend give Washington State a leg up?
A. Weather really doesn't play to either team's hand, as this will be the first time the Cougs have had to play in snow (if it falls) this season; they're not terribly acclimated to that type of weather just yet. The forecast calls for a high of about 30 degrees and a low of 18. With kickoff being around 7:30 p.m., it will probably be closer to the 18 degree mark. We'll see if the teams come out sluggish, or if the Cougs and/or Bruins come ready to fight.
Joe Doyle is a contributor to Cougfan.com, Scout.com's Washington State affiliate site. Click here to follow him on Twitter.