WSU vs Portland State: Keys To A Victory


The Cougars host Portland State on Saturday in the newly renovated Martin Stadium and it will be a good game for the Cougars to bounce back to. The Cougars have started out the season 0-2 after two disappointing losses to teams that could have easily been beat.

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I take a look at 5 keys the Cougars could use to win the game this weekend.

It is not in the list, but being at home and having a good student and fan turnout is huge for the team. They all are disappointed with the way the games went and to show up and see that they still have fans and students supporting them will be a great help for them as they try to get back to a bowl game for the second consecutive season.

1. Week 1 Offense

We all saw what Connor Halliday did in week 1 and it is the type of performance that we can see out of him every week. The offense in week 1 put up 538 yards of total offense and 38 points against Rutgers.

Aug 28, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday (12) drops back for a pass against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half at Centurylink Field. The Knights beat Cougars 41-38. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

If we see this type of offense again out of the team along with a defense that we saw last week (more on that to come) then the Cougars are going to be hard to beat. Halliday threw one interception in week 1 and looked very good on many of the drives. The ball just didn’t bounce our way when it came down to it. One more completion or first down and we could be talking about a completely different game.

The offense struggled to put up points last week and it really showed after they were only able to put up 13 points against a Nevada team that has really struggled in the past.

The offense is going against a defense that is returning very few starters on defense and a team that has allowed their opponents to put up big numbers. If they play like they did in week 1 the offense should really have a great day.

2. Week 2 Defense

In week 1 the defense could not get a stop and Rutgers running back Paul James was able to run all over the place without hardly getting touched. It seemed as if it would take multiple players to make a tackle that should have been easy and the defense really was not putting much pressure on the offense.

Sep 5, 2014; Reno, NV, USA; Nevada Wolf Pack running back Richy Turner (2) is stopped by Washington State Cougars Tracy Clark (22) in the second half of their NCAA football game at MacKay Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports. Nevada won 24-13.

In week 2 things were completely different. The team did a great job and held Cody Fajardo to just 12 of 21 passing and 110 yards. It was a different story when it came to the ground game as Fajardo was able to rush for 100 yards alone as the defense totaled 214 yards on the ground.

The defense forced 9 drives to end on a punt or turnover on downs and was able to force Fajardo to hand the ball off or run the ball for most of the game. Fajardo had just 2 receivers with multiple catches. One of those 2 receivers only had 2 catches.

The Cougars had some changes on defense from week 1 and we will still see those changes with a few different things coming in the two deeps but for the most part keeping things the same. This change seemed to help a lot and these next two games will really tell us if they did or if last week was something random.

3. Running Game

The Cougars running game has seen its positives and negatives so far this year as they have seen rushes for more than 15 yards more than once. The Cougars are not really a running team and that doesn’t look to change anytime soon. What can change and is changing is the ability to run the ball if the passing game is not there.

Aug 28, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars running back Theron West (24) celebrates a touchdown against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the first half at Centurylink Field. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Jamal Morrow has been the main back for the Cougars and is averaging almost 4 yards a carry. His backup, Theron West, has averaged almost 7 yards a carry. Mike Leach has not been scared to stick with the pass game if the running game is not there but he has also shown that he will stick with the running game even if it really is not going anywhere.

Connor Halliday is and has never really been a mobile quarterback so it is really counting on the running backs to get the meat of the ground game going.

Portland State has an undersized defensive line and the Cougars should be able to get a really good push on them and allow the running game to flourish.

When it comes to defense, the Cougars have really had a lot of issues when it comes to stopping their opponents. They have allowed 214 and 214 yards in each game so far this season. The Cougars have struggled with the front 7 and have been allowing the opponents to get deeper into the secondary and find space.

4. Get The Momentum Back

The Cougars are 0-2 and are very disappointed with the way things are going. The two games the team lost are two games they should have won but struggled with either offense or defense in the games.

Aug 28, 2014; Seattle, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars safety David Bucannon (32) come out of the tunnel before a game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Centurylink Field. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

With Oregon coming up next week, getting this game is going to be a huge confidence booster for the team. They are down and are disappointed that they lost both games and it is really important to get a win before they head into the meat of the schedule and start to take on PAC-12 opponents. If the Cougars want to go bowling this year (more on that to come this week) then this is a must win for them.

If, and we definitely don’t want it, the Cougars lose this game to an FCS opponent they will be more down than they ever have been. There will be no confidence and going into the Oregon game they are going to need the most positive attitude they can.

Portland State is an easy opponent and I am scared to say that as I thought the same of both Rutgers and Nevada, but this game heavily favors the Cougars.

5. Force Turnovers

Portland State has already played a PAC-12 opponent when they opened the season against Oregon State. The Beavers took care of Portland State with a score of 29-14 and forced 5 turnovers in the game.

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

The Cougars are going to need to get after Kieran McDonagh and the running game and force turnovers to allow Halliday back on the field to score some more points. The defense last year was able to get their fair share of turnovers and hopefully they start to get back into that groove and start to force more turnovers.

Connor Halliday has struggled with interceptions as he already has 3 on the season and the defense need to be able to get that ball back to him if that happens more. Mike Leach and company know about that 5 turnover game and the 2 turnovers that they had last week and the defense will hopefully be able to take advantage of that and force McDonagh to make some bad plays and give the ball back to the Cougars offense.