Not only is it Football Friday for Cougar Nation, it's time to put on those travelin' shoes. Coach Paul Wulff and the Cougs have packed their bags and headed for the Rose Bowl, home field of the UCLA Bruins. Watch out, citizens of Pasadena. California, here they come.
Saturday evening, Washington State will take on Coach Rick Neuheisel and the UCLA Bruins.
Both teams go into this game looking for their first conference win. Only one will get off the schnide.
Both teams go into this game with new head coaches.
Both teams go into this game with third string quarterbacks starting because of injuries. UCLA lost the first two players on their depth chart during spring practice. WSU lost their first and second string QBs in the only game they have won this season.
Both teams go into this game with head coaches that played for their respective universities, bringing a unique spirit to their roles.
There are more similarities between WSU and UCLA, but chances are you're getting a bit tired of listing them and, at best, are wondering where this is all going.
Let's cut to the chase.
This game isn't a prime time college football matchup, despite the scheduled time for kickoff. That's right, game time is 7:15 pm PST.
WSU-UCLA might not be a classic matchup this season, but it's still college football. The Pac-10!
Since injuries have plagued both teams, anticipate passionate play by kids who didn't expect to see a lot of playing time this season. There will be a lot of undersized, a-step-slower, inexperienced guys on the field.
As unpredictable as college football can be, this game might go any number of directions—and that's probably just in the first quarter.
Last week, UCLA started to gel on offense. They were able to move the football against a good Fresno State defense with their patchwork offensive unit. In the end, the Bruins couldn't outscore the Bulldogs, but they looked more like the team that beat Tennessee in their season opener.
The defense for UCLA was not very good last week. Going into this season, that was the side of the ball Bruin fans expected to perform well. It hasn't happened yet. Then again, they haven't played Washington State yet.
Even though the Cougs moved the ball on occasion against Oregon last week, they only managed to score two touchdowns. They never threatened the Ducks. Heck, WSU was down 21 points before they crossed the goal line for the first time.
So let's talk Cougar defense.
With the exception of Portland State, the WSU defense has made their opponent's offense look invincible. They've given up more big plays than Alabama opponents in Forrest Gump.
Enough about the Cougs on defense.
The challenge for Coach Neuheisel will be to exercise patience. With a stable of very good running backs, UCLA should be able to do what others have done to the Cougs this year. If the Bruins run right at the Cougs, they should control the clock and the game. WSU doesn't have enough size up front on defense to control the line of scrimmage for 60 minutes of football.
Up to now, the creative offensive mind of Bruin offensive coordinator Norm Chow hasn't shown a lot of patience. Desperate for a Pac-10 win, the Bruins should just keep it simple and exploit this apparent mismatch in the running game.
The challenge for Coach Wulff will be to keep his troops focused. There's a strong likelihood that WSU will fall behind on the scoreboard early on. That's become the pattern.
If progress is to be made this week, players will have to play with blinders on: one play at a time, regardless of the score. Neither the offense nor the defense has yet to find any rhythm. That's not going to happen unless they can develop confidence and consistency at some level and then build from there.
Special teams have progressed quite a bit from the opening game. That's not enough for the team to win.
Victory for either team would be nice for fans. For Coach Wulff and the Cougs, well, he'd like to see progress. And hey, a win would be pretty good, too.
The running game for WSU will fall on the shoulders of Dwight Tardy and Chantz Staden. Tardy had a career game against UCLA last year but also suffered a season-ending injury near the end of the game.
After a very nice performance last week against Oregon, Logwone Mitz is hobbled with a bad ankle. Though Chris Ivory has started a couple of games, he'll watch this one on the sidelines because of hamstring issues.
Things are so thin at the quarterback position for the Cougs, Coach Wulff held open tryouts on campus this week to find someone to run the scout team offense. That's right. The invitation went out for any student with NCAA eligibility to stray from intramural football long enough to suit up for practice.
Hollywood stuff? Not really. Life in Pullman these days, that's what it is.
Come Saturday evening, anything can happen. The quarterbacks for both teams have another week of practice under their belts. They will begin the game with confidence.
History won't mean a thing.
History will be made.
Coach Wulff and his team will make progress.
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