Can Cougars win (at least) 6 of next 10?

WSU EXPECTATIONS BEFORE THE SEASON were focused far beyond just attaining bowl eligibility. But the new reality is that Washington State is 0-2, and at a minimum needs six wins in the next 10 games. How do the Cougs get there?

The first part of the answer has to do with the schedule, the second on the three things the Cougs need to do most to start ripping off some W’s. 

First, the schedule. The Cougs need to take care of business and beat Idaho on Saturday (11 am, Pac-12 Network … and while we’re at it a big, blowout win would help relieve a little of the angst around Cougar Nation). The season is then split into two parts when it comes to getting to six wins.

The opening three-game conference stretch is rough -- WSU plays Oregon, Stanford and UCLA.  But the Ducks and Bruins do come to Pullman, while the Cardinal game is on the road.

Of course, WSU will be looking to win all three.  But when the topic of discussion is six wins and going bowling, Washington State at a minimum needs to win at least one of those three games. That brings us to the season’s second half. Are there four wins in the final six games?  

WSU plays ASU, Oregon State, Arizona, Cal, Colorado and UW.   Before the season, most Cougar fans probably felt pretty confident about the first five tilts, and optimistic about the Apple Cup too. 

But 0-2 is 0-2, Oregon State and Colorado don’t look as poor as the pundits predicted, ASU just hung 68 points on Texas Tech, and UW has steamrolled its first two foes. (Granted, UW scheduled body bag games in its non con and opens Pac-12 play vs. an Arizona squad that has looked shockingly hapless at times. A better handle on the Huskies will have to wait until Weeks Five and Six, after they play Stanford and Oregon).

Bottom line for the Cougs in the second half of the season: WSU needs to win four of those six.

THE BIGGEST TURNABOUT needed (arguably) from how Washington State played the first two games is that Luke Falk needs to trust his receivers and go up top more.  If opponents drop safeties and try to force WSU to throw everything underneath, and WSU lets them, the Air Raid will never his its full stride this season.  Falk, and the Cougs, need to be the ones forcing the issue, not letting the D set the framework.

Now, it’s a fine line. Falk doesn’t want to force the issue too much or drive-killing interceptions will be the result. But if a DB has tight one-on-one coverage on Gabe Marks, I’ll take Marks to win a 50-50 ball every day of the week and twice on Saturdays.

The other Cougar receivers are more than talented enough to win similar 50-50 battles, the worst thing that should happen is the pass falls incomplete. The receivers need to do their jobs. And Falk needs to trust them. WSU has a hugely athletic, talented receiving corps, one that -- collectively -- should not be able to be contained if they properly execute.  But WSU’s Air Raid has been contained, frankly, for too long of stretches in the first two games. Time to flip the script.

OVER ON DEFENSE, Alex Grinch teaches specific technique when it comes to tackling. And it’s not happening out on the field. The amount of broken tackles by Boise State was jaw-dropping this past Saturday.

WSU has the perfect opponent in Idaho, plus a bye week, to get back to crisp, solid fundamentals and execution. But that window is now rapidly closing – it’s Week Three and there’s no more time to get settled in.  The tackling technique by Wazzu on Saturday will be something to watch closely.

ON SPECIAL TEAMS, Kyle Fossum has looked good this short season returning punts. Tavares Martin on kickoff returns has all the speed in the world but has looked hesitant to me at times, perhaps trying to set up the perfect lane rather than simply pointing himself at a crease with a plant-and-go. A momentum-seizing special teams return for a TD can change an entire college football game. WSU needs one.

The most glaring special teams deficiency for fans has been the field goal kicking (0-2) but frankly I’m not overly concerned.  Erik Powell last season was 20-of-26 on field goals and 49-49 on extra points, scoring the third-most points ever in Cougar program history. I’m chalking up those two misses this season to aberrations, and fully expect to see a quick return to 2015 form.

Of more interest to me: room for improvement on all of the special teams units.  There have certainly been some bright spots, but special teams coach Eric Mele wants his units to be leading the pack, the best in the Pac-12.  So do Cougar fans.

Mental toughness is of course also in play here. WSU is not only 0-2, there’s been a national conversation about off-field issues and problems with the law. Wazzu needs to get its swagger back. The Cougs can’t just want to win - everybody wants to win. They have to truly believe they’ll win and that no one can even stay close with ‘em. The No. 1 goal this offseason was to take the next step from last year’s close, thrilling wins and dispatch teams sooner -- to settle the issue long before the closing moments of the fourth quarter. Saturday must be the time to start implementing that trend.


Cougfan Top Stories