I don't have much of an introduction to this week's edition, but the good news is that there's enough great stuff here (courtesy of Longball from the WSU Football Blog) to carry the show. Seriously. (Also, you can hop over there and read my answers to his questions about the Cardinal.) So without further ado, here's the enemy...
The Cougs are 3-1, but the three wins are over Idaho, Southern Utah, and a USC team that's just waiting to self destruct. How good is Washington State right now?
It's true we have yet to play, let alone defeat, a team with any kind of balance. Auburn and USC are the only real competition we've faced and neither fields a competent offense. That said, our early performances have convinced us we are much better than last year. A lot of times on the Palouse we measure improvement by how much less we are losing by on the scoreboard. This season we genuinely expect that improvement to manifest itself in the win/loss column. Auburn and USC are both deeply flawed teams, but they also field world class athletes at almost every position. In the not-so-recent past we simply could not match-up with these types of teams physically, to the point that schemes and execution didn't even matter. Those days are now behind us. Also, we played both those teams on the road, early in the season. Not only did we play better than expected in our early games, but we also feel that those games themselves have tested us and made us better. I think there is a general consensus that we have moved into the middle of the conference, with the ability to beat just about anyone on any given Saturday.
Connor Halliday is definitely on a roll, having thrown for nine touchdowns and over 700 yards in the past two weeks. Why should Stanford fans be afraid of him?
There is a lively debate on-going amongst Coug fans right now about just what we have, or don't have in Connor Halladay. Most people agree that he has a lively arm, and a fiery competitive spirit, but that he also struggles with decision making and mechanics. Fans now are divided on whether they see improvement in these areas; some do and some do not, or don't see enough for their liking. However, folks on both sides of the debate have seen the "good Halladay" and never lose the feeling that he could emerge at any moment and shell shock a defense. If we find a way to protect him against the vaunted Stanford pass-rush, you will definitely have your hands full. Halladay has a lot of weapons to work with and is completing passes to 10 or 11 different receivers every game, so you can't just key on one player and expect to stop him.
In simple terms, Washington State runs a spread offense, but even within the Pac-12 there are different types of spread offenses. What does Mike Leach's Air Raid offense try to do to the defense?
Mike Leach's Air Raid tries to get the ball in the hands of play-makers in space. By classic football definitions it looks to be one of the least balanced offenses this side of the wishbone. In actuality, Leach has just re-defined balance as not a 50/50 split between running and passing, but a balanced distribution of the ball to all the potential playmakers on a team. When executed proficiently there should not be a single player, or play that the defense can focus on to shut down the offense. Surprisingly it is not an offense with a large number of plays. Rather there are very few plays run out of a multitude of sets. As O-coordinator Mike Leach simply calls a formation from the sideline and the QB, presumably with the best view of the field, then calls the play based on what the defense shows him. While not a break-neck speed hurry-up offense like you see from Oregon, Leach does try to push the tempo and keep teams off balance. By filling the field with receivers, rotating in a lot of bodies at those positions, he also looks to wear down an opposing defense.
The offense gets all the attention, but the Cougs have only surrendered 17 points in the last three games, so the defense must be doing something right. What type of scheme do they run? Who are the stars on that side of the ball?
Defensive coordinator Mike Breske runs a 3-4 defense featuring a 4th linebacker, dubbed the Buck. This is a hybrid position usually manned by a player who has some combination of defensive end size and linebacker mobility who can be used in both roles. If healthy, our starting Buck will be Destiny Vaeao who weighs in at over 290 lbs. Biggest linebacker ever, right? At past stops in Wyoming and Montana Breske has built a reputation for having very aggressive, high risk/high reward defenses that were blitz heavy from all positions in the defensive backfield. So far this season he has really shown a tendency to play more straight up and that may be the quality of the offenses we played against, but also the strength of the D-line which has been able to get great push with just 3 rushers. Our defensive personnel are strongest right up the middle, with nose tackle "Junior" Gauta, "Mike" linebacker Daryl Monroe and safety Deone Buccannon. All 3 should be in line for conference accolades at least.
What are your biggest concerns regarding this game?
Biggest concerns going into this game as a Coug fan are: A. Our defense has yet to be tested against a high functioning offense. We really believe the best offense they've seen is in practice every day. B. Time of Possession. Our offense can score quick, but they can also struggle to maintain drives. Meanwhile, no matter how well our defense plays we expect Stanford to move the ball and eat clock. It is crucial that we find a way to rest our defense and capitalize on red-zone opportunities. I'm something less than confident that we'll do that.
Finally, what is your prediction for the game? Give me a final score and an explanation.
I'm already on the record in our weekly predictions for a score of Stanford 35, Cougs 24. I actually expect this to be a real battle, but one that by the time the clock expires clearly shows that Stanford is the more mature and complete team. An upset is definitely not out of the question, and I really believe that just as a college football fan in general, the clash of styles alone makes this must-see-TV.