CF.C Keys To The Game: WSU vs. Nevada

IT’S A HUGE GAME for the Cougs at Nevada tonight, (7:30 pm, ESPN). With a win, the future suddenly looks a whole lot brighter out on the Palouse. But a loss would mean Year 3 of the Mike Leach-led Cougars is off to a stunningly disappointing start. Here’s how WSU gets it done in Reno and turns the planned Nevada white-out into a raucous crimson celebration …

1. Protect Connor Halliday.
The Wolfpack have some pretty strong pass rushers and are going to try and bring the heat on No. 12. Some quick running plays up the gut and/or draw plays could also hit big here.

2. Start strong out of the gate.
The Cougar offense took about 1 ½ quarters to get going against Rutgers. WSU's defense was already in trouble by that point.

3. Contain the ground game.
Cody Fajardo is a very capable passer, but WSU never seems to be able to stop the bleeding once opponents start running the ball effectively. The Cougars have given up over 200 yards rushing in 8 of their last 9 losses. Stopping the run is Job 1.

4. Force the issue.
WSU never seemed to stray from their base defense in the opener, even when it was clear it wasn't stopping Rutgers. Stack the line and blitz when the going gets tough. Dictate what the offense is going to do, and set up opportunities for Nevada to make their own mistakes.

5. Repeat all from Week 1, except one thing.
WSU did about 27 things right on special teams last week, and one thing wrong. And that one thing ended up being the turning point. Play it safe on punt returns this week. The gunners and placekicker did a solid job last week but the combination of so-so blocking and a slow get-off in the punting game was slightly worrying. Meanwhile, Kristoff Williams is on the edge of breaking off a big kickoff return, he just needs a little more of an opening lane, a little bit better blocking.

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