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Wazzu Week: No Time For Bruins To Get Comfortable

If anyone is feeling comfortable about this weekend’s game just remember this note from last season. Last season Washington State was coming off a humiliating 7-53 loss against Oregon and 1-4 record in the Pac-10 (3-5) to take on UCLA. We know what took place in Pullman after that. It was us who left that place humiliating as the Cougars beat us up by a score of 27-7. Cougars’ RB Dwight Tardy ran all over UCLA defense (which was decent last season) by rushing for 214 yards in 37 carries. Here is the box score if any one has the stomach to go through it again.

Dwight Tardy is back as he is looking to make a comeback from a major knee surgery from this past season.  He leads the team in rushing (250 yards in 66 carries, averaging 3.8 yards per carry). You can bet Tardy and the Cougar OL will be closely looking at the game film from this year’s UCLA defense which has posted some disconcerting numbers to date. More on that below.

Tardy is not the only RB Cougars have at their disposal. They also have Christopher Ivory who according to the bloggers at CougCenter “has shown the same difficult-to-tackle rushing ability that Jacquizz Rodgers showed” against Southern Cal. Ivory to date has rushed for 136 yards in 28 carries. So given that combination it would not be prudent for Walker’s front-7 to overlook these guys, especially considering how leaky our rushing defense has been so far this young season.

Meanwhile, the Cougar offense has other skill players that Wazzu fans are lot more excited about. Once again here is Grady from CougCenter (one of our latest colleagues in the SBN network, who have shown great composure and poise blogging about the Cougars in an incredibly difficult season they are experiencing in their ead coach’s first season). Anyway, Grady is excited about Brandon Gibson, the team’s leading WR and Marshall Lobbestael, the freshmen QB who has gotten a lot of a action in last two games:

1. Brandon Gibson - Of all of the players on the roster, only one seems to show NFL potential on a weekly basis. Gibson appears to have shaken off his case of the dropsies from the Oklahoma State game and is rounding back into form as one of the conference's elite receivers. He is on pace for another 1,000 yard season, although he probably won't repeat his outrageous 17.6 yards/catch average from 2007. And he's doing it while being the focus of the defense, and without current Seahawk Michael Bumpus at his side.

2. Marshall Lobbestael - First there's the nickname factor. You can call him "The Lobster", "Rock Lobster", "Ocho Rojo", or "The best FBS quarterback in the state of Washington now that Jake Locker is hurt". Either way, he has more good nicknames than Brink, Rogers and Lopina ever had, combined. Also, it turns out he's a decent QB. We may have a slightly unhealthy pseudo-obsession with Ocho Rojo here, but he's backing up the hype: he's the only Cougar QB with a positive TD/INT ratio (4:3), and is averaging 6.2 yards per pass attempt (remember, per attempt, not completion). Which begs the question: why the heck aren't we throwing it more?

Obviously this team is struggling and lot of those numbers were piled up courtesy of Portland State. However, once I will repeat again that it will be very foolish for our defense to get complacent and over look this team.

Tardy based on his last year’s success against a more talented Bruin defense is going to look to spike his numbers up against a defense which to date has given up 37.5 points per game. The defense so far has given up 679 yards in rushing with an average of 4.41 yards per carry [See]. Those are not pretty numbers because the soft defense against opponent’s rushing attack has repeatedly put the opposing offenses in comfortable 3rd down situations and a lot of pressure on our young secondary.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, the Cougar defense is hurting up front. Nuss at Cougars center offered up the following simple explanation for their defensive struggles:

Without a doubt, this team has its fair share of problems at the moment. But none is more glaring -- or more damaging to the Cougs' chances of winning -- than the horrendous play of the defensive line, which is shaping up to be one of the worst in school history.

It starts with the tackles, A'i Ahmu and Matt Eichelberger, who are proving that they don't belong anywhere near a Pac-10 football field. Not only are both fat and slow, neither is very strong. Same goes for defensive ends Kevin Kooyman, Matt Mullennix and Andy Mattingly, who I suppose at least are trim and fit while not being very strong.

The result is all four being washed out on virtually every running play, unable to ever hold a gap at the point of attack. Consider the chain reaction this causes, which is practically fatal to this team's chances of ever stopping anyone against the run.

In some ways the problem the Cougar defense is having sounds kind of similar to what we are experiencing in Westwood. The struggles of our starting DEs and LBs (sans Carter) is also making our defense susceptible to the opponent’s rushing attack, while forcing secondary to make way more than their share of tackles. Currently the list of our top-5 tacklers include ATV, Lockett (even after missing a game) and Rahim Moore. That’s a not a good sign.

Going back to the Cougar’s defense, it will be imperative for our OL to come in with total focus and determination in this game. Let’s hope they are not patting themselves too much in the back following the encouraging performances from last two weeks. They will have to come into this game with a mean, nasty streak, and look to impose their will on a Cougars front-7, which by all accounts have been struggling this season.

Again, the Cougars are coming into Rose Bowl arguably in lot worse shape (and with out the luxury of a bye week to prepare for UCLA). Yet as we have reminded in our early morning notes today, it would be foolish to look past these guys given what they have done to us recently at the Rose Bowl embarrassing the Bruins in 2006 (35-15) and 2004 (when a 5-6 Wazzu team beat UCLA by a score of 31-29). Our guys will have to come in and get off to a good start. Otherwise, if they let these guys hang in the game early on, based recent history you can bet the Cougars will do everything they can to take advantage of their rare opportunity to grab a victory this season.

Bottom line, it is no time to get comfortable for our team or our fans.