On the Other Sideline: Five Questions with The Daily Evergreen

On+the+Other+Sideline%3A+Five+Questions+with+The+Daily+Evergreen

Wash. State - Sideline         — Courtesy of WSU Athletic Communications
The 3-0 Utes begin Pac-12 play by welcoming Washington State to Rice-Eccles Stadium tomorrow. In preparation for the conference showdown, The Daily Utah Chronicle’s Ryan Miller caught up with William Cheshier, the Washington State football beat writer for the The Daily Evergreen, to get the lowdown on the Cougars.
RM: After struggling to begin the season, Washington State went toe-to-toe with No. 2 Oregon. What did the Cougars do different in that game?
WC: The biggest thing they did was from a mental standpoint. The first couple of games of the year they kind of came out without an edge offensively and defensively. They put in LB Jeremiah Allison last week, and he was flying around and was able to get pressure, but the biggest thing is they were really just not there mentally. The first two games the defensive line wasn’t able to apply pressure. Then, last week they got to [Duck quarterback Marcus] Mariota seven times.
The offensive line is inexperienced, they came in with three new starters on the right side, and the last game it seemed like they were really starting to play as a unit, compared to just individually. That was one of the biggest things offensively, because when [WSU quarterback] Connor Halliday has time he is one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He doesn’t turn the ball over when he has time.
Confidence wise, they are riding pretty high right now.
RM: How does Wazzu view Utah as an opponent?
WC: The Utes are a really tough opponent, and this is a really important game. WSU struggled out of the gate, so to get to a bowl game, they’re going to have to beat a team like Utah.
The Utes’ run-heavy offense will cause problems. If you look at the games that WSU has lost, they’ve really struggled against the run. Even though they sacked Mariota seven times, they were still hurt by the rush against Oregon. Running the ball is something that WSU is going to have to stop.
On special teams, they cover pretty well, but they are prone to give up the big play and so with [Kaelin] Clay back there for Utah, they might have a hard time.
RM: What makes Halliday and the Washington State offense so potent?
WC: Halliday is a special player, he’s got the right physical tools and the natural talent. What gets him in trouble is when he gets rushed. That’s when he tries to do too much. The air-raid offense is all about throwing the ball. He’s forced to make all those passing decisions, and so when the line breaks down and he think he needs to fit the ball in a tight window, that’s when he turns it over. When he gets time, he is special. A lot of the people look at the numbers the offense puts up and how they are able to do that is the distribution of the ball. Halliday has so many options at his disposal. The receivers and offensive line are key to air-raid.
RM: How does WSU plan on stopping Utah’s balanced attack?
WC: The Cougars are very talented up front. Their front seven is their strong suit. Playing in the 3-4 defense, the Cougars have the linebackers to plug the run and force teams to throw. They are inexperienced in the secondary, though [corner] Daquawn Brown, who is a sophomore, really stepped up last week and played well, but even with the improving secondary, they will rely on the front seven. They got to Mariota seven times, and when you’re not facing Mariota, who is just a freak, you’re going to get some turnovers off of that.
Oregon and Utah are similar, they run more than they throw, so I don’t see them doing anything different against the Utes than what they did against the Ducks, and as a whole, they were pretty successful there.
RM: What will the Cougars do to escape Rice-Eccles with a victory?
WC: The biggest thing is defensively; the offense will put up 20-plus points a game on a bad day. That front seven is going to have to put pressure on Utah, and those linebackers have to plug those holes. They have to limit Clay, because he can really turn a game quick with his returns. If they can limit the Utah offense, the air-raid offense should take care of the rest.
Cheshier’s prediction? Washington State: 38, Utah: 27.
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