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Washington State Cougars Q/A Preview

We want to thank Mark Sandritter of our SB Nation partner CougCenter for his passionate insight.

The Cougars will have a nice home-field advantage.
The Cougars will have a nice home-field advantage.
William Mancebo

1. Last week it seemed that Washington State was very conservative in the passing game, throwing the ball short and to the sidelines. Do you think that will change this weekend?

Last week wasn't necessarily abnormal for the offense the Cougars run. The idea is to stretch the field and find space both horizontally or vertically. They still run four-verts and push the ball deep down the field, but a lot of the offense is screens, short mesh routes and intermediate work. Connor Halliday has been at his best this year hitting timing routes in the 10-15 yard range. There may be some shots deep against the Trojans, but it will largely be the same offense as every other week.

2. We know how prolific Connor Halliday has been this season, but what do you think allows him to be so successful in that offense?

Just a comfort level in the offense. Graham Harrell has talked about how Halliday is sort of the sacrificial Air Raid lamb at WSU. He was just thrust into the offense and onto the field without anyone to show him the ropes. It took a while for him to master it, but he's doing graduate level work this season. You can see he is more comfortable and he's doing an excellent job of exploiting what the defense gives rather than forcing passes into coverage.

3. Many of us here in Southern California watched Gerard Wicks dominate the local prep scene with Long Beach Poly. How important has he been for your success and will WSU try to run the ball (at least) a little bit.

Gerard Wicks has shown a lot of promise as a redshirt freshman. He got injured last week and may not play this week, but he and Jamal Morrow have provided a nice boost. Morrow is a little faster and shiftier in the open field. Wicks isn't bad on the edges himself. WSU fans are very excited about that combination going forward. Hopefully Wicks gets healthy soon.

4. Do you mind breaking down the skill sets on your trio of top-flight wideouts that continue to put together mind-boggling numbers this season: Vince Mayle, Isiah Myers and River Cracraft?

They all do a little bit of everything. Vince Mayle is a big, physical receiver who's surprisingly fast and agile for his size. He's a deep target, but also very good after the catch. A lot of times he's the de facto short yardage running back. WSU loves to throw him a quick screen on third or fourth and one and let him put his shoulder down and plow ahead for the first down.

Isiah Myers is a steady outside receiver who excels with route running and a comfort level with Conner Halliday. He's a little unorthodox -- almost Stevie Johnson like -- and is used mostly in the intermediate passing game. River Cracraft is the Cougars' best inside receiver. Always where he needs to be, the best hands on the team and a major safety valve for Halliday. He is by far the key to the offense, he just makes things go. If you shut down Cracraft, the Cougars will struggle.

5. Your thoughts on the crazy Pac-12 road records this season and whether that will play an impact in Washington State?

The crowd at Martin Stadium can provide a nice home field advantage, especially with some of the noise bottled in with the completion of the new football ops building. It's not going to decide a game, however. It'll give the Cougars a nice boost early, then the play on the field will take over.

6. Who on the defensive side of the ball is someone USC should look out for?

Xavier Cooper is the Cougars' best player up front. He's a solid two-way player and usually draws quite a bit of attention from the opposing offensive line. Dorsey High School product Jeremiah Allison might be the best player on the defense. He's a fast, rangy linebacker who has played really well this season. He's going to be tasked with a lot against the Trojans, so he's one to watch.

7. Just curious, who is taking a bulk of the blame for Washington State's slow start this year? Is it largely the coaching, defense or Halliday and company?

The only reason Conner Halliday could be blamed for anything is because people always put excessive blame on the quarterback. He's been a stud all year. There have been other issues across the board. The defense -- especially the secondary -- has really struggled this season. The Cougars are playing a ton of youth back there and it's been a harsh learning curve. The special teams has been a major detriment as well. Ultimately that all falls on the coaches. I'd say you can blame just about anyone, but if I was going to single out a unit as the biggest issue, it's the defense.

8. You prediction for the game?

I think a lot depends on USC's game plan. If the Trojans come out conservative on offense, that helps the Cougars. They've shown with a close loss to Oregon and a win at Utah that they can mask the flaws at least temporarily, but it obviously helps when the opponent doesn't attack the weakness. If Steve Sarkisian decides to relentlessly attack with the vertical passing game, USC is going to hit a lot of big plays. I expect a very similar game to last week against Arizona.

Maybe 51-34 USC.