We’ve had some pretty good success with our BYU “Insider” series this season and have wanted to bring the same feature to our Utah fans in addition to the weekly previews that Chris Enger is doing to showcase the Utes match ups. Each week we’ll ask questions of a blogger for Utah’s opponent that week and post their answers as a post for you to read. We’ll give you some background info and link you to their own site so you can read all the good stuff they are doing while supporting their own teams.
Game 9 – Washington State Cougars
Respondent: Kyle Rancourt
Academically Ineligible: When we last spoke before the season began, optimism was high, though still controlled. How has this season unfolded in terms of preseason expectations?
Kyle Rancourt: In terms of pre-season expectations, this is pretty close to worst case scenario. Leach’s offense hasn’t clicked at all, and both QBs seems much, much worse than we originally anticipated. Sophomore Connor Halliday has a big arm but is a questionable decision maker, and that is amplified in the Air Raid where accuracy and smart reads are key. He’s thrown 11 interceptions in just over 14 quarters of play. That’s ridiculous. Senior QB Jeff Tuel was extremely passive at first, holding onto the ball far too long, often resulting in a sack. After an injury, Halliday replaced him but kept the job after he was healthy. Leach changed his mind after Halliday threw 3 interceptions against Oregon State, and Tuel has looked great ever since. We were 25 point underdogs to Stanford last week and we lost on the final drive of the game. We’ve seen how the Air Raid can look when run properly, I just think everyone over-estimated how prepared our two QBs were for this system.
AI: What has been the biggest positive for the Cougars thus far this season? What about the most disappointing part?
KR: I’d say the positive has been the defensive line. We have had one of the worst defenses in the nation the past few years, so really, anything even resembling average to slightly below average feels like the Steel Curtain to us. With the additions of JC transfer Ioane Guata and RS Freshman Xavier Cooper, the big guys up front are wreaking havoc, allowing the LBs (most notably RS Freshman Darryl Monroe) to roam around and hit people. BUCK LB Travis Long has also been outstanding, leading the team with 7.5 sacks (good for 4th in the Pac12, and 16th in the nation). Our secondary is still awful, but Junior S Deone Bucannon has been a bright spot.
If we’re going for biggest disappointment, I’d have to say our receiving corps. They were lauded as one of, if not the, best in the Pac 12. Everyone knew about Marquess Wilson, but people expected us to be extremely deep. We’ve started two true freshman, and the player most talked about during Spring ball and camp was former TE Andrei Lintz. Leach gushed about Lintz, and his transition to WR. Everyone was expecting huge mismatches over the middle with a LB who was too slow or a DB who was too small. Lintz’s season totals? 2 catches for 14 yards. Ouch.
AI: At the beginning of the season, expectations were high for a high-flying Cougar offense as well as for Utah’s defense to be truly dominant. Neither has panned out as hoped for. How will the Cougar offense match up against Utes defense?
KR: I don’t think we’ll run the ball at all against that front seven, but we don’t really run the ball against anyone, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Our offensive line is a sieve, and is one of the (probably THE) weakest units on the team. Jeff Tuel will be running for his life all game. If Tuel can capitalize on short, quick passes (slants, screens, etc), then I think he’ll be ok. If he holds the ball forever like he did against BYU and Eastern WA, then we’re in trouble. He was good-but-not-great against Cal, but something clicked against Stanford. I’d like this game a lot more if it weren’t in Salt Lake City.
AI: Prior to the Cal game, the Utes had managed to score about as many points on defense as they had on offense. Then last week, they grabbed two 100-yard kick returns for scores. Clearly, this offense is still learning how to play with freshman Travis Wilson just getting his 4th start. What do you expect from Utah’s offense this week and how will the Cougar defense respond?
KR: I think DC Mike Breske will do what he’s done the past few games: blitz all night. If Mike Leach calls offensive plays like I do while playing Xbox, Mike Breske does the same on defense. “Hmm, 3rd and 10? Let’s go with the Full House Blitz.” In theory, if they score on you, who cares? That means you get the ball back on offense. In real life, if they score, who cares? They were probably going to win anyway, so might as well blitz and try to disrupt a young QB, possibly forcing him to throw a pick or two.
The one thing that frightens me is, in Breske’s version of the 3-4, you need corners who can cover man to man on an island. Our corners can’t cover themselves with a blanket. So … yeah. I love the idea of this quasi GATA defense*, but it’s better in theory because we just don’t have the athletes.
(*GATA stands for Get After Their Asses. Basically, blitz blitz blitz blitz blitz…)
AI: Washington State clearly hasn’t performed as hoped for this season and being winless in the Pac 12 thus far had probably only served to further dampen spirits. What has happened this season that might serve to give Washington State fans (and the team) hope for 2013?
KR: Jeff Tuel was hurt most of last season, and applied for a medical redshirt. While I still don’t think he gets it, it was initially approved by the Pac12, and they are appealing to the NCAA on his behalf. So who knows. If he came back for a 5th year, that’d be encouraging. I think other than that, we can look forward to another year of the WRs understanding what they’re supposed to do and where they’re supposed to be. We have quite a few Freshmen who have played extremely well, including WRs Gabe Marks, Dominique Williams, and Brett Bartolone, RB Teondray Caldwell, LB Darryl Monroe, DT Xavier Cooper, and S Taylor Taliulu. So if nothing else, we have a core group of really talented kids going forward. Other than that? We have alcohol. There’s always that to look forward to.