Washington State (2-0) at Ohio State (2-0)
3:30 PM EST - ABC (Coverage Map)
Commentators: Brent Musberger, Gary Danielson
Weather Forecast (as of Today): High of 86 degrees, Isolated Thunderstorms (40%)
Here it is... this week's version of the country's biggest game, and for the first time in what seems like many moons, the country's biggest game (at least in the eyes of the country... for us, every Buckeye game is the country's biggest game) is going to be at the Horseshoe. Two top-ten teams are going to go at it with College Gameday in town... you won't see a bigger home game than this (not before November anyway).
The Washington State Cougars are somewhat of an unknown to many in this part of the country. They came out of nowhere last year to become a Pac-10 title contender, and after a 10-2 record, they come back strong this season as they are the pick of many to be the conference champs in 2002. Part of that has to do with senior quarterback Jason Gesser, who played a big part in last season's emergence. Gesser has been compared to Jake Plummer, and he is being touted as a Heisman candidate. So far this year, he is 29 of 45 for 462 yards with 4 TDs and one INT. A big game in Columbus would do wonders for that campaign...
Gesser isn't all the Cougars bring to the table though. One of the reasons he is successful is due to a fine group of wide receivers, led by the 6-6 two-sport standout Mike Bush. Bush's size and athleticism makes him hard to handle. But that's not all; he's joined by Florida State transfer Devard Darling, another receiver with good size (6-3, 205) who is also making an impact this year as he has 117 receiving yards on 11 catches (the team's leading WR right now) and two TDs as well as a rushing TD. He also returns kicks. Throw in Jerome Riley (5 catches, 117 yards in game 1 but is questionable for this game due to injury) and the experienced Collin Henderson, and you can see why they are one of the better WR groups in the Pac-10. Freshman Troy Bienemann is at TE.
The Cougars have a solid offensive line as well. It is led by one of the best guards in America in right guard Derrick Roche, and it also returns starters at tackle in Calvin Armstrong (a big guy at 6-8, 310) and Josh Parrish as well as Tyler Hunt at center. Phil Locker (6-5, 325) fills the left guard spot. This front could be one of the best OSU will see this year.
If there was a question mark coming into the season for the Washington State offense, it was at RB since they needed to replace last year's starter. There is quantity at tailback; senior John Tippins and junior Johnathan Smith will be the main men and Jermaine Green could get carries as well. The tailbacks shouldn't be taken lightly, but the guess here is to say that they won't have the success against OSU that they've had in the first two games.
Defensively, Washington State's strength is up front and at cornerback. Rien (pronounced Ryan) Long leads the way at tackle; he had three sacks in last week's game against Idaho. Long and Tai Tupai are an experienced tandem at DT. The ends will be solid pass rusher Isaac Brown and returning starter Fred Shavies. Shavies, Brown and back-up DE D.D. Acholonu combined for 21 sacks in 2001. At corner, Marcus Trufant leads the way; he is touted as one of the conference's best. He's joined by Jason David, a returning starter who is a little small at 5-8, 170.
Coming into the season, the questions were at linebacker, where three starters left including 2nd-round NFL draft pick Raonall Smith, and safety, where both starters left including perhaps their top defensive player in safety Lamont Thompson, who is now on the Cincinnati Bengals. The linebacker spots are filled with Al Genatone at Will, Kevin Sperry at Mike, and freshman Will Derting at Sam, who had an impressive start to the season as he picked off three passes against Nevada including a 98-yard TD return, but is listed as doubtful for this game due to a sprained ankle. At safety, junior Erik Coleman and senior Virgil Williams are the starters. In addition, there is some depth on the line, but the depth of the back seven on defense has been questioned. Overall, the Cougars allowed 600 total yards in their two games against Nevada and Idaho but just 21 points.
On special teams, Drew Dunning is a returning starter at kicker was expected to be solid coming into the season, but he has gone 1 for 3 so far in the place-kicking department. The punter is Kyle Basler, who has averaged 44.9 yards per punt this season.
On paper, this game looks like it could go either way. The Cougars appear pretty sound overall, and they could pose several problems for Ohio State. Both teams are going to have the chance to show everyone they are for real, and Washington State doesn't get the spotlight too often like this, so this is a particularly big game for them.
There are several keys to this game for the Buckeyes, but the big matchup is how the OSU defense plays the Washington State passing game. The WSU receivers are a concern, and stopping a quality quarterback like Jason Gesser is always a key. The Buckeyes also have to be tough in the trenches as both Washington State lines are touted as being pretty strong, and also, the Bucks need to watch out for a trick play or two as the Cougars are said to have some of those up their sleeve. The Cougars also do not have the overall depth that OSU does; we will see if that plays in the Buckeyes' favor.
Overall, look for a fun, entertaining game between two good teams. This is a game that could turn on one mistake, one big play, one big call, etc. Both teams will need to be at their best to win. A win for either team would mean big things, but in the end, it might prove to be a lot to ask for the Cougars to come all the way to a packed house in Columbus and get a victory. We will find out soon enough!