Aug 31, 2013; Auburn, AL, USA; Auburn Tigers running back Tre Mason (21) is tackled by Washington State Cougars safety Deone Bucannon (20) at Jordan Hare Stadium. The Tigers defeated the Cougars 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
We’ll definitely get a good read late Saturday night on the progress Coach Mike Leach and his staff are making in rebuilding the Washington State (2-1, 1-0 Pac-12) football program.
When it comes to performance on the gridiron, the Cougs began showing life late last season with a gritty performance against UCLA, then ranked #17 in the nation. That was followed up with a humiliating loss to ASU one week later in Tempe. As virtually everyone who aligns themselves with the crimson and gray knows, six days after sleepwalking through a disaster in the desert, WSU played with pride and passion to earn an overtime victory in the 2012 Apple Cup.
Good teams play well week in and week out regardless of their opponent. The Oregon Ducks would be a fine example. Dressed like cartoon characters, the guys from Eugene come out on the field not only expecting to win the game, they play with consistent focus rarely seen in college football.
Compared to where Cougar football has been for over the past decade, things are looking up for Cougar Nation.
Washington State is still a work in progress.
Over the first three games of the 2013 schedule, the Cougs have shown improvement. To place colorful, flamboyant adjectives describing just how much better WSU is at this point would be a stretch. Those days might be coming, but they aren’t here yet.
Coach Leach’s team has enjoyed the taste of victory twice this year. To continue savoring that winning feeling, they will have to roar out of the tunnel at Martin Stadium this evening for their tilt with former border rival Idaho.
The Vandals (0-3) have fallen on hard times and are trying to rebuild their football program under first-year Coach Paul Petrino.
Though the Idaho campus is just 8-miles from Pullman geographically, it has always been little more than a potential rival for Washington State. In general, these schools don’t compete for the same students or student-athletes. Perhaps that’s the missing ingredient?
What won’t be missing in this game is the belief on the part of the Vandals that they can cross a state border, win a football game, and return to their campus late Saturday night with an upset victory. Were that not the case, why bother getting on the team bus?
As a 31-point favorite on their home field, WSU should only lose this game if they revert back to the beginning of last season when they lacked identity, passion, work ethic and a basic grasp of the new offensive and defensive schemes employed by Leach.
No question Idaho hopes the Cougs are enamored with where they have been more than showing a hunger for where they want to go.
A win by WSU will get them halfway to one of their goals for the season. Six wins will make the Cougars bowl eligible.
Depending on how this game plays out, it’s possible Washington State will be the underdog in each of the next eight regular season games. In other words, a win over the Vandals Saturday is extremely important.
Next week the Cougs return to conference play for the balance of their schedule. Any concern about the Pac-12 race is a waste of time prior to the end of the Idaho contest.
Key Players To Watch
Deone Bucannon is a special player. The senior safety has been rock solid for WSU going into his final year. He has taken his play to another level, flying all over the field from his safety position in the defensive backfield. Bucannon will move into the WSU Top 10 in career tackles Saturday night in the first quarter. He needs just two more to pass WSU former great Ron Childs.
Darryl Monroe will likely be the reason WSU does or doesn’t stop the Idaho running game. Monroe is the guy calling the defensive plays on the field signaled in from defensive coordinator Mike Breske. Playing in the middle of the Cougar front seven, his ability to make tackles on Vandal running backs is crucial to shutting down their offense. Honorable mention last season as a freshman, Monroe is off to an All-Pac-12 start in 2013.
Sep 14, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Washington State Cougars offensive lineman Elliott Bosch (60) during the fourth quarter against the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Elliott Bosch leads a vastly improved offensive line for WSU. A natural leader, the senior from Spokane has played as well as any center in the Pac-12 thus far. The confidence and rapport between Bosch and quarterback Connor Halliday is rarely noticed because of flawless play. If the Cougs are to be successful rushing the football against Idaho they will need another strong, heady effort by Bosch.
Teondray Caldwell has shown flashes of brilliance running with the football in the first three games. This young man seems poised to bring balance to Leach’s Air Raid offense. He leads the Cougs in rushing, a stat often forgotten when a pass happy offense is throwing the ball 60-plays a game. Caldwell is averaging a respectable 5.8-yards a carry.
If you aren’t going to be among the approximately 33,000 fans inside Martin Stadium Saturday night at 7:30pm for kickoff, get yourself in front of a good sized flat panel television tuned to the Pac-12 Network. And if you want a full Cougar experience, use the TuneIn Radio app on your smart phone to catch the play-by-play by Bud Namek.
Shortly before midnight Saturday Cougar fans will have a better idea of just how far the rebuilding project for Washington State football has progressed.