Washington State preview

You can understand if the Washington State Cougars are a little more fired up than usual when the USC Trojans visit Pullman this Saturday. After spending the last few years renting a room in the Pac-10 penthouse, the Cougars have been unceremoniously booted to the basement.

You can understand if the Washington State Cougars are a little more fired up than usual when the USC Trojans visit Pullman this Saturday. After spending the last few years renting a room in the Pac-10 penthouse, the Cougars have been unceremoniously booted to the basement. A 1-3 start in Pac-10 play is looking more like a trend than a fluke and has the Cougars sitting in eighth place in the conference, just ahead of a decimated Washington Husky team and the rebuilding Arizona Wildcats. A win against the number one ranked Trojans would take much of the sting off their season and would destroy the Trojans' Orange Bowl dreams. However, the Trojans remember their last trip up to face Washington State all too clearly. Revenge for an overtime loss in that game will be at stake as the Trojans look to pile on the pain in Pullman.

Cougars on Offense

Quarterback - #10 Alex Brink

Alex Brink will be making only the second start of his career when he lines up under center against the Trojans on Saturday. Under normal circumstances, Brink would be on the sideline with a clipboard watching starting Cougar quarterback Josh Swogger direct the offense. However, Swogger suffered a season-ending injury before the Cougars' loss last week to Oregon State, and as a result, Brink was thrust into the starting role against the Beavers and will be asked to finish the season at the helm of the Cougar offense. Brink had seen action in two games this season prior to his start against Oregon State, as he was inserted into the season's second game against Colorado and threw two passes at Idaho. Against Colorado, Brink showed flashes of brilliance in completing 12 of 23 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown. However, Brink was intercepted once and sacked 5 times and a large part of why he looked so good is probably simply in comparison to Josh Swogger's forgettable day, going 6 of 27 for 77 yards and a completion percentage of 22%. Brink was then handed the reigns against Oregon State and did not have the type of game that he wanted in his first collegiate start. While he threw for 201 yards and a touchdown, he was only 15 of 41 passing and completed two additional passes to the wrong team. Only a red-shirt freshman, Brink is still trying to acclimate himself with his receivers as well as the Cougar offense as a whole. However, as we saw one week ago against Washington, this Trojan defense is not one to allow young quarterbacks to learn on the fly.

Running Back - #1 Jerome Harrison

Jerome Harrison didn't start out the season as the number one option at tailback for the Cougars, but he's played himself into the role with solid efforts in his last three outings, coupled with a knee injury to usual starter Chris Bruhn. In the past three games Harrison has rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries against Oregon, 84 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against Stanford and 98 yards with another touchdown on 20 carries at Oregon State. At 5'9" and 192 pounds, Harrison is small, but also shifty and dangerous. He's proven that he can make positive yards by taking a handoff from the quarterback, but he's also shown the ability to slip out of the backfield and get himself open for a pass. He's caught eight passes for 76 yards this year, but because of his speed and elusiveness, he can create match-up problems if he's put out in the flat against linebackers. The Cougars may try to rotate in a few more of their bigger backs throughout the game, because while Jerome Harrison is definitely a talented player, he could wear down pretty quickly after being slammed around by the USC defensive front a few times.

Wide Receivers - #83 Jason Hill, #2 Chris Jordan, #5 Michael Bumpus

Jason Hill has become a standout wide receiver for the Cougars in only his second year. So far this year, the Cougar passing game has started and stopped with Jason Hill. He has 23 catches on the year for 637 yards, well more than double Chris Jordan's total of 260, and a team leading nine touchdown receptions. While Hill doesn't have the distinct height advantage that so many collegiate wide receivers possess, he can burn you with his precise route running as well as straightaway speed. He's had three games this year in which he's gone over 100 yards receiving, including 115 with a touchdown against Stanford, 105 with three touchdowns against Idaho and a ridiculous 206 yards on only 6 catches against Colorado. Although, due to injuries, the Huskies were playing last week with a few of their engineering professors lined up at wide-out, the Trojans still did a remarkable job of completely shutting down the passing game. Jason Hill will be a true challenge for the Trojan secondary as he is capable of turning in some game-changing plays. Also, Chris Jordan and Michael Bumpus, who USC fans will remember from the recruiting season, have stepped up nicely to take away some of the heat on Hill. Jordan has been on the receiving end of 15 Cougar connections through the air and is capable of stepping up and cashing in some big plays when the defense watches Jason Hill a little too closely, as evidenced by his five catches for 128 yards against Oregon. Bumpus is another guy who is stepping up more and more as the season progresses. A true freshman, Bumpus began the season returning punts, but slowly made his way into the offense and landed a spot in the starting line-up. His past two games, against Stanford and Oregon State, have been his best. He hauled in five passes in each game, going for 55 yards against the Cardinal and a team-leading 42 yards against the Beavers.

Tight End - #81 Troy Bienemann

The Trojan tight end stoppers will be asked to rise to the occasion again on Saturday as the Cougars unleash Troy Bienemann against his namesake. Thus far, Bienemann has grabbed 20 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown. He stands 6'4" and 245 pounds, can run through and around linebackers and safeties, and is one of the better tight ends in the Pac-10, a league loaded with talent at the that position. If the Trojan defense pays too much attention to the Cougar receivers, Bienemann is more than capable of stepping up and having a big game. It's been thought, said and practiced, that a good tight end can help you move the ball against this Trojan defense, but in recent weeks, the USC linebackers in have done an outstanding job of limiting the opposing tight ends. We'll see if that keeps up against Bienemann.

Offensive Line - #67 Calvin Armstrong, #70 Bobby Byrd, #66 Nick Mihlhauser, #77 Patrick Afif, #75 Sam Lightbody

The offensive line is anchored by their two senior tackles in Calvin Armstrong and the less-than-appropriately named Sam Lightbody. Just as every Trojan opponent before them, this line will have to play the game of their lives to keep pressure off of Brink and allow for a Cougar running game. The line has played well on occasion, not giving up a sack against Idaho or Oregon, and paving the way for two 100-yard games on the ground. However, they've also suffered a few letdowns, as displayed by Colorado's eight sack effort in the season's second game. This Cougar line has yet to face anything like the Trojan defensive front, and this match-up could go a long way in determining the outcome of the game.

Cougars on Defense:

Defensive Line - #94 Mkristo Bruce, #99 Steve Cook, #40 Aaron Johnson, #13 Adam Braidwood

This Cougar defensive line should allow the Trojan offensive line another week of practice as nobody in this front four will strike fear in the hearts of offensive coordinators. However, the Trojan line has had their share of problems this year against suspect defensive fronts. This game on Saturday will show just how far the line has come, and how far it has yet to go. Mkristo Bruce is the statistical leader of the line as he ranks sixth on the team in tackles, while he leads the team in both sacks, with 3.5, and tackles for loss, with seven. However, the defensive line's main objective is to tie up the offensive blockers so that the Cougar's athletic linebackers can come up and finish off the play.

Linebackers - #42 Scott Davis, #51 Will Derting, #46 Pat Bennet

At the beginning of the season, it was up in the air whether Will Derting would even see the field this year. A thumb injury made it seem as if the Pac-10 running backs and quarterbacks could breathe a little easier when the Cougars came calling. However, Derting made the comeback and finds himself right in the middle of the Washington State defense both physically and emotionally for the third straight season. It's important to know where Derting is on the field at all times because he's used in so many different ways. He can rush the quarterback, stick with a running back or drop back against a tight end. No matter where he is on the field, the Trojans will need to account for him. Scott Davis has become a force for the Cougars this year on the defensive side of the ball. He leads the team in tackles, has 2.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss, and has forced and recovered three fumbles. All three of these linebackers are athletic and able to make plays. However, only two weeks ago, we saw the Trojans handle a group of talented linebackers from Arizona State. We'll see what Will Derting and company can do against the Trojan attack.

Safeties - #26 Jeremy Bohannon, #28 Hamza Abdullah

Jeremy Bohannon and Hamza Abdullah are two of the three senior starting in the Cougar defensive backfield. Both of them have the ability to stick with a wide receiver as well as stick their nose in at the line of scrimmage. Abdullah ranks third on the team in tackles while Bohannon is fifth. Each of them has one interception on the year as well. It's been a year, thus far, in which the Trojan passing game has gone through some rough patches with the loss of key players and the ongoing maturation of current ones. Both Bohannon and Abdullah will try to use their experience to confuse and intimidate the Trojan receivers, while forcing Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart into some bad decisions. However, unless the Cougars can establish any sort of constant pressure on the quarterback, Leinart will have too much time to throw and too many options for this defensive duo to cover.

Cornerbacks - #15 Karl Paymah, #21 Alex Teems

Both Karl Paymah and Alex Teems must be able to lock up the Trojan receivers for a full 60 minutes if the Cougars want a shot at winning this game. Opposing teams have been able to move the ball through the air against the Washington State defense, and if the Trojans find the same kind of success with the pass, this game could be over quickly. Teems leads the Cougars with two interceptions while Paymah has added one of his own, and both cornerbacks are good tacklers. However, while both of these players are quite skilled, the Trojan offense must attack them in order to open up holes elsewhere on the field.

Cougars on Special teams

Kicker - #27 Loren Langley, #18 Graham Siderius

Loren Langley handles the field goal and extra point duties while Graham Siderius takes care of kickoffs. Langley has been perfect on the season when attempting extra points, but far from it when called on to put three up on the board. While he's 19-for-19 when going for one point, he's only made half of his ten field goal attempts. It'll be interesting to see how the weather affects the kicking game, but no matter what, Langley will have to hit more than miss against the Trojans.

Punter – #8 Kyle Basler

Kyle Basler's amazing game against Texas in the Holiday Bowl last year vaulted him towards the top of the world of collegiate punters. On this season, he is averaging over 45 yards per kick and has dropped 11 inside the twenty, while allowing only seven touchbacks. He also has connected on a ridiculous 87-yard blast this season. However, this dynamite leg could be a blessing for the Trojans as it means only one thing: it will allow Reggie Bush more time to return punts.

Kick Returner - #1 Jerome Harrison

The Cougars have yet to break a long run on a kickoff this year, and have been held inside their own 30 pretty consistently. Don't look for that to change against the Trojans, as Ryan Killeen has been absolutely crushing kickoffs out of the endzone for the past few weeks. Also, the Trojan coverage team has been punishing those returners foolhardy enough to bring one out.

Many people will have you believe that weather conditions or a fired-up Washington State crowd will be able to shift this game to the Cougar's advantage. However, the Trojans simply have too many great athletes for the Cougars to keep up with. As Trojan fans have come to expect, it may start out slow, but expect the Trojans to tame the Cougars.

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