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.
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?
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.