Baylor 101: A moved up, wake up call

GET THERE, GO out and get a win, then come straight home. That's the task facing Washington State today after the game against Baylor was moved up due to an approaching hurricane. Mother Nature aside, Baylor was in the same straits a week ago Wazzu now finds themselves in -- their new coach was coming off a devastating loss the week before and the team was desperate for a win.

Baylor got theirs, albeit at the hands of outmatched Northwestern State, and the Bears have found some of their confidence again with a new quarterback to lead them. Washington State will need to overcome adversities in more ways than one for this hastily put together tilt in Waco, Texas.

Cougars (0-2) vs Bears (1-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
5:30 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Floyd Casey Stadium (50,000)

TELEVISION:
FSN-SW, FCS; modified broadcast featuring in-stadium scoreboard feed and radio call

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
Washington State by 2

LAST MEETING:
2006 in Seattle, WSU won 17-15.

THE SERIES:
Baylor leads the series 3-2

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 21, Bears 17

THE BEARS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Robert Griffin, QB: Freshman Griffin appears to have secured the starting job for the foreseeable future. A mobile, Vince Young type quarterback, he adds a dangerous dimension to the running game, which has in turn helped open up the passing game. Griffin finished third to Washington State wide receiver Jeshua Anderson in the spring when Anderson won the NCAA 400-meter hurdles title.

Jay Finley, RB: A solid back whether running or receiving the ball.

David Gettis, WR: Baylor has a crew of tall receivers and at 6-4, Gettis is equipped to exploit the jump balls that have hurt the Cougars at times this year.

Overview
Briles wants to build a potent spread offense but he doesn't have the receivers in place just yet -- Griffin's playmaking ability is helping to buy time while the rest of the pieces get in place.

Strategy
The Cougars should be able to contain the running game if they play better assignment football. They may also need to start getting more creative with their coverage packages and/or disguise them better. A linebacker or safety-type spying Griffin at all times, while trying to mix in some zone packages to try and confuse him could pay large dividends -- though there is always a trade off when one of the 11 is responsible only for the opponent's QB.

THE BEARS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
Joe Pawelek, LB: The other ‘JoePa' is a tackling machine, anchoring the defense from his inside linebacker slot.

Vincent Rhodes, DT: Rhodes is one of two enormous d-tackles that clog up the middle for the Bears. Neither is a threat in the pass rush, but draws enough attention to help open blitzing lanes.

Dwain Crawford, CB: The senior Crawford is a solid defender, but his counterpart Krys Beurck is a converted receiver and looks to be still very raw.

Overview
Baylor runs a pretty basic 4-3 package. They have a lot of beef in the middle, but the ends and outside linebackers are smaller -- and faster. Their run defense has been solid all year, but they really had to focus to contain Wake Forest's option attack, which left their secondary exposed in the 41-13 loss.

Strategy
Although they smothered Northwestern State, the Bears secondary looked porous against Wake Forrest. Since they have been strong stopping the run, the Bears may choose to over-emphasize on pass defense against Washington State. WSU could find trouble trying to run up the gut and might find better success trying to spring Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory to the outside -- utilizing their twin-tight end formations could help Washington State seal the corners and get the backs out into space. Besides, WSU's receivers haven't made teams pay yet and even Brandon Gibson has had some drops -- but the unit prides itself on it's blocking and this is a game they can have a big impact in that department.

THE BEARS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
The Cougars played better this past week, but that doesn't mean all the special teams issues are now solved. Baylor doesn't feature especially dangerous return men but the Cougs could be well served to focus on making Baylor call touchbacks, fair catches and most importantly, using directional kicks to the proper side. Baylor punter Derek Epperson has a big leg but freshman kicker Ben Parks is still unproven.

FINAL THOUGHTS
There's a reason nobody travels on the road and plays the same day. But because of Hurricane Ike's arrival, WSU finds themselves in the unenviable position of flying out Friday morning and playing the game about four hours after they land. Ugh.

WSU's defense has actually looked solid at times though you wouldn't know it by the box score. They could help out even more by finding ways to generate more big plays but if they can limit Baylor to some three and outs like they did in stretches their first two games, that would work just fine also. The Cougs might try to mix up and disguise their defensive packages to try and confuse an athletically dangerous, but young and inexperienced QB. If the WSU cornerbacks show Baylor they need to be respected early, it will go a long ways towards hopping in and and out of Baylor with a W.

Offensively, Gary Rogers or Kevin Lopina will get the start at QB. Both might play, or if one gets on a roll, he might be the guy the whole game. If it's Rogers, he has to take command and get the passing game going. If it's Kevin Lopina, his running ability could help the Cougs find their rhythm. Devin Frischknecht has great hands, but none of the wide receivers have made their mark yet, though two-thirds of the starting unit has been slowed by injury from fall camp all the way through the first two games The coaches showed a split backs formation earlier this year and putting Tardy and Ivory in the back field might get more playmakers on the field, or they could go with more twin tight end formations, to try and get better blocking to get the running game going.


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