WEEK 6: Let's talk Cougs vs. Beavs

WASHINGTON STATE IS certainly improved from recent times. But how good are they? Oregon State meets up with the Cougs in Pullman for a Saturday night tilt that is huge for both teams (7:30 pm, ESPNU.) Let's look a little closer at the pass-happy Cougars...

The Air Raid offense of Mike Leach gets all the press but it's been the Cougar defense that has shined brightest this season, and that's taking into account some major meltdowns these past two weeks.

Where WSU shines most on defense is up front, on the line.

The Cougs run a 3-4 and the front three are all right around 300 pounds. Nose tackle Ioane Gauta has been the most consistent and the one the Beavs need to focus on first. But ends Toni Pole and Xavier Cooper are fully capable of stealing the limelight. Plus, WSU moves everyone around, so that Pole is sometimes coming off the edge.

The BUCK linebacker in the scheme is Destiny Vaeao, and he's about 290. He'll often play with his hand down but he's also better than one might think when dropping back in coverage. The Cougs also sub in 225-pound Kache Palacio at the BUCK for his pass-rushing skills.

When this front gets pressure, and/or they get pressure with the help of blitzes, the Cougs have looked pretty good on defense. But when they have not gotten heat on the quarterback, they've been picked apart.

The linebackers are a pretty good group as far as the run goes, but they're average at best in coverage. And the secondary has been downright poor in coverage with one notable exception, safety Deone Bucannon, who is likely to play on Sundays.

The Cougs have been pretty salty against the run (due mostly to their front and in allowing linebackers to clean up on the tackles). And middle linebacker Darryl Monroe is a very good player.

But OSU hasn't run well nor tried to run all that much this season.

And if Sean Mannion has time, he's going to put up some huge numbers on Saturday, with Brandin Cooks, Richard Mullaney and Connor Hamlett among those expected to be on the receiving end. The Oregon State receivers could put up some huge numbers against this defense. But...

But OSU's offensive line has to allow Mannion the time. Stanford provided a pretty good blueprint, in keeping at least six men back, always, in pass protection. The Beavs would do well to do the same. Because when WSU gets pressure, they become a whole different defense.

ON THE OTHER side of the ball, WSU continues to put up a ton of yards -- but until last week they hadn't gotten as many points as they should for all those hashes, (and you can at least argue they didn't get all they should last week either at Cal.) That's in large part to not running the ball, or lack thereof. WSU also has very few run attempts this season and when they have run it, have found spotty success. Sound familiar?

Over their first four games, WSU quarterback Connor Halliday was a turnover machine, throwing nine interceptions. He's thrown only one the last two games. Why?

The Air Raid has always been a short-passing attack that looks to spread you out and attack the zones. But WSU has zeroed in even more in recent games. If Oregon State wraps up, they should be fine. But we've all seen far too many games this season where OSU has not wrapped up, and short passes turn into long catch-and-runs.

Halliday is also hurting with what could be an abdominal strain, hip pointer or ankle injury, (WSU refuses to disclose injury information so we'll go ahead and include a bruised toenail to our grab bag of guesses.) If OSU can get some pressure and early hits on him, he and the Cougars might be in trouble based on how the last two games have played out for WSU. The backup is Austin Apodaca.

Now, Apodaca is inexperienced and he floated the ball a bit at Stanford. He is however an agile quarterback. The good news for Beav fans is if Apodaca does come into the game, the Cougars don't really have many, if any, designed runs in their offense. He can hurt teams by scrambling, but he's not going to be looking to suddenly pull out a bunch of zone-read option.

The Cougar receiving corps is stacked deep. If Halliday has time, it's going to be a long day for the Beavs. Gabe Marks is arguably their best overall guy, Dom Williams is their best deep threat and Vince Mayle is a 6-3, 240-pounder with strength and speed for whom the light bulb may be turning on after a slow start.

Keep in mind that the Cougs' leading receiver last week with eight catches was none of these guys, and instead Bobby Ratliff. Meanwhile, there are multiple other receivers who could any given Saturday jump off the page - such is Leach's offense that looks to really spread the ball around.

Oh, and the Cougs want their running backs to get all-purpose yards, and not really rushing yards. Until last week, that hadn't happened. But Marcus Mason chalked up 150 all-purpose yards at Cal, with 100-plus coming through the air.

The WSU offensive line is better, surrendering only 10 sacks in six games. Some of that is due to the quick release nature of the passing game but it's also due to better protection. Still, Beaver d-ends Scott Crichton and Dylan Wynn have a chance to make some hay here against the WSU tackles.

IN THE END, this looks to be a shootout with both teams putting up some very big passing yards. How both teams play once the opponent is inside the 30-yard line is going to be huge.

And if one defense can get some pressure, even if it's only for a while, that could also go a long ways in determining the outcome.

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