2007 Look Ahead: Washington State

Seven days after playing the Huskies at home, Stanford will play their rivals on the road in the Palouse. The last meeting between the Cardinal and Cougars in Pullman was a memorable one, but many of the faces on offense and defense for Washington State have turned over since. This November battle in eastern Washington will be an interesting matchup for Stanford.

Washington State Cougars

First Down: Quick Hitters

Washington State @ Stanford – November 10

Last Meeting: Washington State 36, Stanford 10

Side-by-Side Stats: (Washington State/Stanford)
Returning Offensive Starters: 7/8
2006 Points Per Game: 24.6/10.6
2006 Rushing Yards Per Game: 128/65
2006 Yards Per Carry: 3.9/2.1
2006 Passing Yards Per Game: 260/167
2006 Pass Completion Rate: 60.5/52.8
Returning Defensive Starters: 5/8
2006 Points Allowed Per Game: 23.1/31.4
2006 Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game: 114/211
2006 Yards Per Carry Allowed: 3.4/4.9
2006 Passing Yards Allowed Per Game: 243/177
2006 Pass Completion Percentage Allowed: 55.9/60.3
2006 Record: 6-6/1-11
2007 Projected Record: (5-7, 3-6)/(3-9, 2-7)
2007 Projected Pac-10 Finish: 8th/T-9th

Second Down: Offense

There is enough returning talent, but how can the Cougars replace the guy that made it all click?

Jason Hill snagged 600 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns despite missing much of last year to injury.  He went in the draft's third round to the San Francisco 49ers at pick 76 – as high as any Cougar has gone since Marcus Trufant went to the Seahawks at 11th overall in 2003.  Junior Brandon Gibson (731 yards) and senior Michael Bumpus (558 yards) return off nice seasons, but how will they respond to the increased defensive attention in Hill's void?

Dwight Tardy is the only sure-bet to return at running back, as DeMaundray Woolridge, the team's best back to my eyes, and Derrell Hutsona both have eligibility issues.  Hardy did run for 713 yards on a 4.6 average as a redshirt freshman last year, but he does not strike me as an elite back (not highly regarded out of high school), so those numbers are more a reflection of Hill and a quality line.

The offensive line does return three, but the two who left, right tackle Charles Harris and left guard Sean O'Connor, were among Washington State's best.  Still, the 3.9 yards per carry is solid, and with better health this season (only one lineman started the entire 2006 campaign), the Cougars could obviously crack the 4.0 milestone.

Quarterback Alex Brink is the best returning Cougar on this side of the ball, and his 28 career starts are the class of the Pac-10.  His numbers (61 percent completion rate, 2900 yards, 19 touchdowns, 10 picks) earned him Second-Team All Pac-10 honors, and he could bounce up to the first team should John David Booty unexpectedly trip up.

Third Down: Defense

Questions in the back seven have me calling this one of the worst defenses in the Pac-10.

Up front the picture is at least decent.  While First-Team All Pac-10 end Mkristo Bruce is gone (Stanford fans are shedding crocodile tears), the other three starters are all back.  They were a middle-of-the-pack group last year, and should stay at about that level with end Lance Broadus, a senior, the star of the bunch (7.5 sacks last year).  An interesting tidbit is that basketball star Ivory Clark may factor into Bill Doba's plans at defensive end.

The linebacker situation is shaky.  Only middle linebacker Greg Trent (77 tackles) returns, while stars Scott Davis and Steve Dildine leave.  Two junior college transfers, Wyman Alexander and Tyson Kirksey, provide depth, but not much else positive can be written about the unit right now.  Sophomore Andy Mattingly and junior Cory Evans, the likely starters, will have to try to fill a big hole, or the Cougars will have to try to compensate for their weaknesses schematically.

In the back end, the safety position looks decent, with Husain Abdullah returning for what feels like his ninth year (actually his third as a starter) to cap off an illustrious career in style.  The other position could well be manned by Terry Mixon, a top junior college transfer who should shine in Pullman.  But at corners, last year's starters both leave, and Bill Doba had no choice but to fill up the two-deep exclusively with junior college players.  Sophomore Devin Giles ran a 10.66 100, and seniors Brian Williams, Markus Dawes and B.T. Walker round out the backfield.  If these JC transfers can just keep the backfield respectable, Washington State could sneak into a bowl with a little luck, but the lack of experience behind a weak linebacking corps will likely prove the final straw.

Fourth Down: Extra Points

Memo to Washington State: fire whoever sets your schedule.  In 2002 and 2003, the Cougars had early visits to Ohio State and Notre Dame; last season they opened their season at Auburn; and this season they open at Wisconsin.  Washington State lost the first three of those high-profile games, and I see no reason why the fourth time around will be any different.

In week two, the Cougars play a game in Seattle against San Diego State.  This is their fifth year hosting a game on the western side of the state.  The Cougars are 3-1 in these games, with the sole loss coming to Colorado, the only team with a pulse of the four (Baylor, Grambling State and Idaho were the others).

I really do not see Washington State beating Wisconsin, USC, Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA or Cal.  That means they would have to run the table against San Diego State, Idaho, at Arizona, Stanford, Oregon State and at Washington to make a bowl.  The Cougars should be favored in most of those games, but to win them all is a tall, tall order.

Stanford's last visit to Pullman was my favorite Stanford game I have seen as an undergrad (admittedly, these past three years have been bleak and there is not all that much competition).  Trent Edwards was the Cardinal's leading rusher – he must have converted three or four second-half third downs with his legs – as Stanford had just enough in the tank to hang on for a 24-21 thriller.

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