Wednesday, August 8, 2007

2007 Preview: WSU Cougars

The Bruins will take a trip up to chilly Pullman Washington in the 8th week of the season to play the pesky Washington State Cougars. This team always causes UCLA fits and last year Alex Brink put on a passing clinic at the Rose Bowl. The Cougars ran into some depth issues after injuries decimated their defense last year and they'll face some similar issues this season. This will likely be another nail bitter as the Bruins march their way toward the end of the season.

Last seasons match in Pasadena was the low point of the Bruin's 2006 campaign. The corners got torched by Alex Brink who was throwing the ball absolutely perfect all game long. His 405 yards and 3 touchdowns were the worst the UCLA secondary gave up all season. This time around, the Bruin corners and safeties will be looking for revenge and the front four will try and make their jobs easier by getting into Brinks face a lot more regularly.

Offense

The Cougars will again run a single back set this season with multiple receiver sets. This will likely force UCLA into some nickel packages and the Bruins benefit from the return of Michael Norris at DB. Brent Lockett and Alteraun Verner have also proven to be excellent personnel in nickel and dime packages and they'll be called upon often in this game.

The key to the WSU offense is senior quarterback Alex Brink. He's had a choppy history during his tenure in Pullman, but this four-year starter is a dangerous weapon who has produced some big game as well. The Bruins got very little pressure on him last season and he delivered some strikes from the pocket. Expect Walker to bring a lot more heat and let his senior corners and talented safeties handle the Cougar receivers man on man.

Dwight Tardy
was the lone back last season and he'll be asked to bring a lot more to the table this year if the Cougars are going to make a bowl game appearance. He had a decent effort in 2006, gaining almost 700 yards for the season with 67 of those yards coming against the Bruins. He's not a threat to knock off a lot of big runs, but he could develop into a steady back for this team. He had a poor spring, however, which is a serious problem because of the lack of depth at tailback. DeMaundray Woolridge and Derrell Hutsona could be academic casualties for the year and sophomore Chris Ivory missed spring practice with personal issues. If Tardy struggles against the stiff Bruin run defense then all the pressure will be on Brink and the receivers to move the ball.

Jason Hill will be playing on Sunday's this season, much to the chagrin of WSU fans everywhere (and they are everywhere!). Despite that lose, the Cougars do have a very talented set of returning receivers including Michael Bumpus and Brandon Gibson who had 8 receptions and 2 TDs last year in Pasadena. The new face is Charles Dillon who had a great effort despite WSU's loss to Washington in the apple cup last season. Jed Collins will take on the TE spot and this jack-of-all-trades will again be asked to make big plays at a new position. The Bruin secondary will be tested by this group again and they're going to have to prove that they are worthy of their pre-season hype.

The big uglies at WSU will be asked to shoulder the responsibility of protecting Alex Brink at all costs this season. They return 3 starters, with a bit of shuffling along the line as well. Talented sophomore Kenny Alfred will be the big man in the middle. To his left, senior Bobby Byrd will make the move form tackle to guard. Andy Roof will also make the move to guard as it better fits his size and ability. Vaughn Lesuma is one of the new faces and the massive 340 lb juco transfer will be asked to immediately step into a starting position. This group as a whole should be pretty well gelled by the 8th week of season, baring a rash of injuries. The Bruin defensive line should matchup here pretty well and I expect Walker to bring a lot of blitzes from all over the field to help out. Bruce Davis is going to have to really make his presence felt and setup camp in the WSU backfield.

Defense

The Cougs lose defensive coordinator Robb Akey to Idaho and head coach Bill Doba will take on those duties this season. He's switching this squad back to a 4-3 for the 2007 campaign. This defense limped its way to the finish line last season and depth and injuries could be an issue by the time the Bruins come-a-calling in the middle of October. They'll also have to compete without star defensive lineman Mkristo Bruce, who has graduated and moved-on from the Pallouse.

The defense line has some talent, but again, injuries could cause some pain here for WSU fans. Ropati Pitoitua is a key senior tackle for this team but he has missed 12 games in three years due to a whole host of leg, knee, and ankle injuries. The other tackle, Fevaea'i Ahmu, has also been bit by the injury bug and defensive end Lance Broadus was injured this spring. Washington State does get back Matt Mullennix, who missed all of 2006 due to injury, and the senior end will help in the rotation. The other ends, Lance Broadus and sophomore Kevin Kooyman could give the line a real spark. The veteran Bruin line will have to really make there presence felt here by giving Ben time to pick apart a thin secondary.

The linebackers are young but there is some talent and depth in this squad. Greg Trent is the starting middle linebacker and he'll anchor the linebacking corps. Cory Evans got some experience as the 4th linebacker last season but more will be asked of him this season. The Cougs also get Jason Stripling back from an injury that sidelined him last season. They'll be asked to fill some holes if the line struggles and also have to cover for some deficiencies behind them in the defense.

The secondary is a major concern on this team. They return only one starter and will ask a number of junior college transfers to try and fill the voids. Husain Abdullah is back at free safety and he's had some up-and-down performances for WSU over the years. The senior will have to help out the other new faces and carry this unit. By this time in the season the UCLA offense should be comfortable in Norvell's pass-first offensive style. Ben definitely has the arm and Joe Cowan, Marcus Everett, Brandon Breazell, and Terance Austin have more than enough talent to compete with this unit.

Special Teams

The Cougars special teams units over the last few years haven't been particularly good. Unfortunately for the fans up on the Pallouse, this year doesn't look to be much better. Loren Langley was the kicker for years but hitting only 3 of 8 from beyond the 30-yard line didn't sit too well with the coaches. Romeen Abdollmohammadi ( who officially wins the award for the name least likely to fit on the back of a jersey) got the nod when Langley was benched but the kicking game as a whole still remains a sore spot on this team. Junior Darryl Blunt returns as the punter and the former walk-on needs to work on his consistency and his hang time this season. The punt and kick return were awful as well, ranking this team dead last in the conference during 2006.

The Verdict

Every year this is a tough game for the Bruins. The Cougars have had our number recently winning last year in Pasadena and five of the last six meetings. The game is in their backyard and a late October date means cold weather and unfriendly crowds are in store for our guys. Washington State will have another potent passing attack and the Bruin secondary will be tested for the second week in a row.

All that being said, the Bruins have a lot of advantages in this game. The WSU defense is thin and their tailback spot has a lot of holes. If Ben Olson and the offense can stretch the field with their own passing attack then the Cougar secondary has some deficiencies that can be exploited. Couple that with a potent and aggresive Bruin defense and you have a UCLA squad that can win this tough road game. It will likely be another very close call, but I think the Bruins make it back to Pasadena with another notch in the win column.

CalPoly's prediction: UCLA victory. Record: 7-1 (4-1)

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(photo credit: Ghetty Images)

2 comments:

Geoffrey said...

Nice analysis and good column. I just hope your prediction is wrong and the Cougs are in good shape by week eight to tackle the Bruins. I'll be there Oct. 27...hope to see you.
Coug Geoff

Oh yea...and I hope it snows.

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