SALT LAKE CITY — Christian Caple covers Washington State football for the Spokesman-Review and knows the team as well as anyone. We asked Caple five questions to gain a better perspective on Utah's next opponent.
1. Washington State has struggled this season but played a very good game against Stanford last week. What did the Cougars do well against the Cardinal and what have they improved on since the start of the season?
First and foremost, they stuffed the run. When you take the run away from Stanford, you more or less eliminate their offense from having an impact on the game, because Josh Nunes hasn’t shown he can complete passes consistently enough to carry the offense. That’s probably where they’ve improved the most — being where they’re supposed to be defensively and making plays when they’re there to make. Increased preparation has helped there.
2. Mike Leach runs a very exciting spread system. Talk about how that system is being run currently and about some of the standouts on offense that Utah needs to be wary of.
Well, it’s not being run the way he’d like it to be, but the Cougars are getting a little better. Jeff Tuel has taken the starting quarterback job back and had a pretty solid outing against Stanford, completing 43 of 60 passes for a career-high 401 yards and two touchdowns despite being sacked 10 times. Marquess Wilson is their best receiver, but his performance in practice recently has cost him his starting job (though he’ll still play quite a bit). WSU has a handful of receivers who have looked solid in flashes, but nobody who’s been real consistent this season.
3. Talk about WSU on defense. What type of defense does it run and who are some of the standout defensive players?
They run a base 3-4, but you’ll see plenty of 4-3 looks, too. Travis Long is their best defender. He can play the hybrid linebacker spot (the buck, as they call it), defensive end, or middle linebacker. They move him all over the place, because he’s a good pass rusher and also one of their best athletes. Junior safety Deone Bucannon has had a really solid season and is easily their most reliable tackler in the back end.
4. Last year's game against Utah went until the very end with Utah coming away with a close victory. Is there a revenge factor in this game and how does Washington State regard Utah's team?
I think a lot of WSU fans look at that game for the “what could have been” quality, because that was the loss that eliminated them from bowl contention and more or less sealed former coach Paul Wulff’s fate. It was also the game Connor Halliday played through a lacerated liver, so plenty of memories there, for sure. But I’m not sure the players think as much about revenge as they do about simply winning a game, something they haven’t done since Sept. 14.
5. What does Washington State need to do to come out of Salt Lake City with a win?4 comments on this story
The same thing it did against Stanford but without the mental lapses. That starts with containing John White, because I’d imagine Utah wants to go to him early and often. And if they can pressure Tyler Wilson and force him into some bad decisions, they need to take advantage of those and cause a few turnovers. Offensively, the pass protection needs to improve against a stout Utah defensive line. Overcoming the noise, etc., inside Rice-Eccles is key, too.
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