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September 19, 2013Tweet Follow @bkRansford Follow @kramdawgsean
WazzuWatch.com is taking an in-depth look at the Cougars' Homecoming game this Saturday against bordering University of Idaho and we caught up with Sean Kramer of VandalNation.com to get an insider's view at the Vandals.
We dive into a comprehensive Q&A to discuss what to expect under center, the offensive and defensive philosophies, playmakers to look out for and much more below.
WW: Washington State and Idaho renew a rivalry on Saturday that many are calling dead. The Cougars have won the last seven games by double-digits over the Vandals and a 32-point spread indicates the current state of the two programs. What is the attitude around Idaho right now under new head coach Paul Petrino and what's the mindset of the Vandals heading into Saturday's contest?
Kramer: The mindset is probably pretty similar to the one at Washington State last season at this time last year: just keep getting better every week. I think fans here realize that Idaho isn't crashing a bowl this season but what they want to see is a competitive team that gives them hope, and Idaho did well to give them that last week by almost upsetting a very good Northern Illinois team at home. There is still a long way to go though. Paul Petrino can do well to continue some good vibes, even through losing, if Idaho can give the Cougars some fits in this game.
WW: Entering last week's game against Northern Illinois, the Vandals were 29-point underdogs but the offense came alive after a dormant first two weeks. However, the offense struggled in the second half and NIU came away with the the 45-35 victory. What was it on offense that finally clicked and who can the Cougars expect to make an impact on Saturday? Is Petrino going to try to establish the run?
SK: It was the offensive line establishing itself that led to Idaho's offensive outburst in the first half. Idaho was getting good push up front which allowed James Baker to grind out yards on the ground and set up manageable third down situations. That went away in the second half when Northern Illinois came up with creative blitzes that put Chad Chalich on the ground too many times to get anything going. The Cougars can certainly make an impact on defense by dominating the line of scrimmage. Both Chad Chalich and Josh McCain struggle with that pressure.
WW: Petrino named quarterback Chad Chalich his starter heading into the season and the freshman has played well at times. What can the Cougars defense expect to see out of the freshman gunslinger? Who are the playmakers that he'll try to get involved on offense?
SK: The Cougars can expect a composed yet inexperienced player. Chalich is fairly mature in terms of his demeanor and the way he carries himself on the field, he's a diligent learner and a hard worker. But his inexperience just shows at time. He'll miss wide open receivers if the pressure gets to him and he still is learning how to feel the pocket. His arm isn't the greatest so most of the offense works intermediately. The offense will also feature a heavy dose of Josh McCain, Idaho's running threat in the two-quarterback system. His biggest players are wide receiver Dezmon Epps, a 5-10 speedster receiver who is an exceptional route runner and freshman running back Richard Montgomery who will make plays out of the backfield in the passing game.
WW: The most glaring statistic when looking at this Idaho team is the defense. They have simply been unable to slow down opposing offenses and are yielding 45.3 points per game after contests against North Texas, Wyoming and NIU. What has been the biggest problem on the defensive side of the ball? How do you believe the Vandals will fare against the Cougars' pass heavy attack, particularly the secondary?
SK: Idaho's secondary is inexperienced and vulnerable. What helped Idaho last week is the lack of an arm that Jordan Lynch possesses. When having to attack runners at the line of scrimmage Idaho tends to do well, but when the defense gets spread out in the pass then it struggles, which obviously creates problems this week for the Vandals. The play of the defense will all depend on the linebackers, though. Idaho has worked heavily on defending the quick short passes this week in practice and that involves linebacker playmakers such as Eric Tuipulotu and Juan Martinez.
WW: Connor Halliday has looked extremely vulnerable when facing pressure this season. Will the Vandals be able to create any semblance of pressure on the Cougars' signal caller? What is the Vandals' defensive philosophy?
SK: Idaho is still trying to find its identity but I think the No. 1 thing for the defense is to be able to contain the run and force defenses in to uncomfortable third down situations. That's something I don't Mike Leach is too afraid of. Idaho will need to get pressure and it will be a problem without sophomore defensive end Quinton Bradley. Bradley hurt his shoulder against Northern Illinois, so that puts the pressure on Maxx Forde and Vince Keener to create pressure from the line. Expect defensive coordinator Ronnie Lee (older Cougs should know that name) to bring guys like Broc Westlake and Marc Millan from the linebacking core on blitzes. He told me in practice this week that being selective in when to send pressure will be the key.
WW: Do you see the offseason fight becoming anything more than a talking point in this game? Is this still a positive and confident team heading into Washington State or have the losses started to take their toll early in the year? What are you overall thoughts on the contest and prediction?
SK: I don't think it will be. Players haven't brought it up at all and would be quick to dismiss it if brought up. And I think both coaches are such no-BS type guys that they won't let it become a talking point.
Overall the confidence for this team is good. They really expected to finish off Northern Illinois last week for the win but at the same time know that they're finally capable of executing together and playing competitive football. I think the key for Idaho will be getting off to a quick start and getting something going on offense its very first possession just like last week. If Idaho can do that and make WSU have to earn this one then I think it will be another step in the right direction for Idaho.
I've adjusted my pick a few times but right now I think Washington State will win 42-20.
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