To help with our preview of the Apple Cup UDUBNation.com is collaborating with WazzuWatch.com. Publisher Britton Ransford answers five pressing questions for us about the Cougars.
1. Does Tuel have any weapons in the passing game UW should be worried about?
With the loss of Marquess Wilson, it looked like the passing game would suffer tremendously. With the absence of Wilson, the Cougars start and play four freshman and two sophomores at receiver with a freshman running back. However, several young receivers have stepped up and showed the depth that Leach has already began to build in his Air Raid attack.
Dominique Williams has been the Cougars' go-to receiver in recent weeks. He plays a mirror image to that of Wilson, but actually puts forth the effort on every play. Gabe Marks and Brett Bartolone, along with redshirt freshman Kristoff Williams have been heavily involved in the passing game all season and Bartolone, in particular, has proven to be one of the most reliable receivers of the bunch.
2. How could a team possibly have 300 rushing yards on the season?
It all starts with the offensive line. Leach inherited absolutely no talent up front and, combined with injuries, the depth isn't there. Without burning valuable redshirts, there simply wasn't enough talent to have a productive ground game - which is so important to the Air Raid.
Needless to say, there has been some improvement via the rushing attack in recent weeks. WSU has a special player at running back in freshman Teondray Caldwell who looks to be the perfect fit for this offense. Not only does he provide an electric spark in the passing and return game, he has a knack for making the big play. When the Cougars are able to muster some yardage up the middle, Caldwell has the ability to bust it outside for huge gains - those are few in between, however.
3. What will WSU's defensive gameplan be this week?
Really, they haven't adjusted their gameplan drastically from team to team. Their 3-4 base defense focuses on bringing a lot of pressure, stuffing the run, and using that pressure to alter the quarterback's throwing routine hoping to create turnovers in the secondary. First and foremost, they'll look to stop the running attack and put the ball in Keith Price's hands where they excel in getting to the quarterback - though, the status of Travis Long will have pronounced impact on the kind of pressure the Cougars will be able to attain.
I think they defense will really be keying on Austin-Sefarian Jenkins and Bishop Sankey, arguably Washington's MVP's on the offensive side of the ball.
There is already some ill-will between the Cougars and Sankey after he spurned WSU for UW during his recruitment. I think the defense has made it a focus to key on Sankey and limit his opportunities.
4. Have any younger players stepped up as the season has gone on?
Definitely. The Cougars have played 17 freshmen this year - showing just how bare the cupboard was when Paul Wulff left town. On defense, Ioane Guata has anchored the nose tackle position with exceptional force and linebackers Justin Sagote, Darryl Monroe and Cyrus Coen, a former walk-on, have provided a steady input for a surprisingly effective linebackers core.
On offense, the youth at receiver is unprecedented, but they have done a fantastic job adjusting to the system and becoming proven leaders at a young age. The experience that these kids are getting can only prove invaluable in seasons to come, but with so many young staples at various important positions, you can imagine the inconsistencies -- hence, the disappointing win-loss column.
5. For WSU to stun everyone and win this game what will it take?
I think the word stun mischaracterizes the Apple Cup. Anything can happen in rivalry games and I think you would be hard pressed to find fans on either side that would be surprised with either outcome. Obviously, Washington is the heavy favorite and therefore, if the Cougars do want to pull the upset, they just need to play a complete game.
They've already showed that they can play with some of the best teams in the country - i.e. at Stanford and the Oregon first half. Obviously, they came out short-handed in both games, but Washington doesn't have any type of daunting aspect to their football team that the Cougars haven't seen already. If they come out and are able to move the ball and the defense can limit the big plays and get off the field on third down, the game could be interesting.
Although, asking for consistency with this football team is like asking for the world -- it's too much to ask for. But, hey, miracles have occurred before, and if the Cougars are able to put forth a four-quarter effort with consistency, they win this game.
But, then again, that would be a miracle.