So what if this WSU football season hasn’t gone the way many people expected. Currently the Cougars sit at a 2-9 overall record and have failed to defeat a Pac-12 opponent. A bowl game is definitely out of reach, but this horrific season can end on a positive note and go out with a “bang” today if Washington State can pull off the upset and defeat the 25th ranked (7-4, 5-3 Pac-12) Washington Huskies. What matters the most to students, fans, and alumni is beating UW! This is the most important game of head coach Mike Leach’s career here at WSU. Besides making a bowl game, and winning championships, winning the Apple Cup is on the top of many WSU/UW lists. UW is favored by about 14 points. This will be a tough game for WSU and in order to come out on top as the 2012 Apple Cup champions, the Cougars must executed these five game plans:
1. Contain Keith Price:
The best offensive player on the entire Washington football team. Price can do it all, from running the ball, reading defenses and is very accurate with his passing. This season Price has thrown for 2292 yards on 223-359 completions, with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Take Price out of the game and make UW run the ball which they are not as deep in and the Cougars have a shot. The Cougars defensive line must rush with efficiency and make Price throw while being pressured or sack him. UW’s entire offense revolves around Keith Price and if they can not allow him to throw over three touchdown passes, watch out for WSU.
2. Catch the Football:
Now with the loss of former WSU star wide reciever Marquess Wilson, the Cougars will have to rely on their very young wide receiving core. This season we have seen multiple dropped passes by these wide receivers. Leach’s air raid offense relies heavily on the passing game and when the receivers aren’t catching the ball, then there is no offense. This receiving core is getting better each week and their best performance was in the UCLA game, where they stepped up to make plays. It’s very simple; catch the ball and you have chance or don’t and have no offense.
3. Run the Football:
The Cougars are one of the worst teams in the whole country in the running game by only averaging only 30 yards of rushing per game. I understand that Mike Leach runs an air-raid offense which is pass eighty percent of the time, but the Cougars need to mix it up. The defense gets a boost when they know what the play is and the Cougars will need to put them on their toes. Having a solid running game will open up the door to so many opportunities with play action and it keeps the defense confused and tired. The more you can wear down the defense, the easier it is to put up numbers. Give Caldwell or Winston around 15-20 carries and the Cougars will have more weapons on offense.
4. Protect the QB:
In order for this magical air raid offense to work, the quarterback needs time look for his receivers. WSU’s offensive line has had its ups and downs this year, with many penalties and allowing sacks. This UW pass defense is very soft and with this pass heavy offense, WSU can score points. The offensive line needs to protect the quarterback and give the quarterback the ability to make a play. If Jeff Tuel or Connor Halliday gets sacked more than 5 times or gets pressured to much, then this one could get ugly for WSU. The offensive line will need to step up big!
5. Execute on Special Teams:
I never thought I would actually be saying this, but special teams will be the difference in the Cougars chances of winning this game. The past two games, the WSU special teams has been horrific with giving up multiple blocked punts and blocked kicks. Those are three easy points and to have a defense block the field goal is a major setback. It applies to punting as well; the main goal of the punter is to place the opponent as far away from the end zone as possible. When the team allows a blocked punt it gives the opponent great field position and a better chance to score. Besides allowing punt blocks, the punting needs to improve as well and UW will need to be forced to drive down the field to score. Making field goals is very important because it’s an easy three points and missing field goals is shooting your self in the foot. The Cougars will need all the points they can get. Finally the Cougars will need to have good kick returning in order to help the offense out with field position.
Those are my 5 things the Cougars must do in order to win the 2012 Apple Cup! Go Cougs!
–Evan Baron (Follow Me On Twitter: @BaselineBaron09)