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Know Your Foe: Washington State Q&A With Coug Center

Jeff Nusser of SB Nation's Washington State blog, Coug Center, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Cougars leading up to Saturday's game. Their interview with yours truly can be found here.

1. The general consensus is that Washington State has looked better and better over the last few games, and against some tough opponents. What has been the key to this team's improvement?

There's sort of a three-pronged answer to that. First off, most of WSU's talent is young. Yeah, there are some upperclassmen starting, but the real talent is in the freshman and sophomore classes. And that young talent is starting to mature, ever so steadily. Second, the coaching staff has started to figure out how to best use the personnel it's got on hand, especially on offense, where they've scrapped a power offense for a quick-hitting, spread style attack. Third, this team has undergone an attitude shift where close just isn't good enough anymore. These young guys haven't been getting pounded on for two years, and they're hungry for a win.

2. As a whole, Jeff Tuel's statistics this season look comparable to the numbers he put up as a true freshman. Looking beyond the box scores, how would you assess his development as a sophomore?

Amazing, really -- and his stats are actually a lot better in terms of yards per game and yards per attempt. The things he's doing as a true sophomore are remarkable. After initially trying to protect him at the beginning of the year with power formations designed to use the run to set up the pass, offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy has put the keys to the offense completely in Tuel's hands. It was partly out of necessity -- the Cougs just weren't moving the ball much at all in the first three games. But part of it was recognition that Tuel could handle a more wide-open offense with three and four receivers predicated on reading the defense pre-snap, adjusting the call at the line of scrimmage, and getting the ball out quickly. What you'll see on Saturday is an exceptionally mature sophomore who can go through his progressions under great duress and still deliver an accurate ball. He's special. It also helps that he's got Marquess Wilson and Jared Karstetter to throw to.

3. What's the main reason for the Cougars' inability to establish a consistent running game this season?

The offensive line stinks. It's the same reason the Cougs have given up an insane amount of sacks. The run game has gotten better in recent games -- the overall numbers won't show it because of the sacks, but it has -- and some of that is due to the recovery of James Montgomery. He nearly lost his leg last year because of a freak injury, and at the beginning of this season he was a shell of himself. In the last two weeks, we've started to see the Montgomery of old. He and Logwone Mitz -- a pure downhill-running power back who Jim Harbaugh would probably love -- form a nice combination ... when there are holes to run through.

4. Defensively, how do you think the Cougars will plan to attack Stanford's balanced offense?

Our defense doesn't generally attack anyone, although last week against Arizona was a bit of an exception with all the sacks from blitz pressure. Really, the key for the Cougs is going to be tackling. It's been the bane of our existence this year, and if it's not better on Saturday, it's going to be a long game. A freshman will start at middle linebacker -- C.J. Mizell -- but he's perhaps the most physically gifted of all the defenders. Another freshman, Sekope Kaufusi, will get plenty of run at weakside linebacker, and he might end up starting depending on the injury situation with Alex Hoffman-Ellis. Both Mizell and Kaufusi can be tackling machines, but both can also get out of position (as freshman do). Ideally, the Cougs would like to make Stanford a one-dimensional throwing team. It's sort of pick your poison with the Cardinal, and they'd rather the poison be that.

5. Earlier this week, you suggested that this could be the game in which the injury-riddled Cougars finally take a step back. What will it take for Washington State to make a bid for an upset?

Two things: Score points and tackle. If the Cougs don't move the ball and don't score points, the Cardinal will likely grind the WSU defense into a pulp as the game goes on. Likewise, if the defense gives up big plays through poor tackling and execution, it will force the offense to play catch up all day -- not where it wants to be. I worry on both fronts. At another point in the year, if the game was in Pullman? I might feel differently, especially with how tough WSU played Oregon and Arizona the last two weeks. But this week, as banged up as WSU is, starting a true freshman left tackle, against a physical Stanford team rested after a bye? It doesn't look good.