When you looked at the schedule in – say – June, it looked like Idaho would be the break the Cougars would need following a tough Auburn game. The Auburn game was tough alright, but it does not look like Idaho is going to cut the Cougs a break. The Vandals visited Michigan State in their opener and gave the Spartans all they could handle. This Idaho team is playing inspired and maybe somewhat over their heads. The reason is Dennis Erickson who has known plenty of success coaching college football. Love him, hate him, don't have strong feelings about it – the fact remains that the man can coach. Make no mistake. Idaho will come into this game – 12:45 PST, FSN TV – believing they can come out with a win.
WSU, meanwhile, is just plain banged up. The Cougars have been riddled with injuries since August, and only added more names to the sick bay list against the Tigers. Most of the players will be back for the Pac-10 schedule, but that won't help WSU on Saturday against the Vandals. The Cougs can expect Erickson to be fully studied up on the WSU depth – or lack thereof – and game plan to exploit any and all weaknesses. This is an early must-win game for WSU and is shaping up to be much more of a challenge than previously expected. Here's CougZone's Keys to the Game:
1) Quarterback production: Auburn made Alex Brink look bad. Plain and simple. The Tigers beat on Brink early with three sacks and, but for one drive, defensed him well enough to essentially take him – and the talented Cougar receiver corps - out of the game. Brink's struggles were all the more vivid when compared to the relative ease with which Gary Rogers led the team – bang, bang, bang – down the field for a touchdown to put the Cougs back in the game. WSU needs Brink to play like the junior returning starter that he is. If Brink struggles again it will not only help the Vandals, it would add fuel to a potential quarterback controversy.
2) WSU's defensive secondary: The Cougs are flat out decimated in the secondary, mainly at cornerback. Starter Don Turner is out for the game as is backup Markus Dawes, leaving relatively raw Brian Williams to step into the starting job opposite Tyron Brackenridge. Coach Ken Greene likes Williams' ability and potential, but Williams is still working on his skills and can expect to be tested early and often by Idaho. Meanwhile, safety is thin – depleted by the absence for this game of key backup Michael Willis. So - WSU is beat up and thin in the secondary, Idaho has some weapons and Erickson likes to throw the ball. You do the math.
3) Run defense: Sure, Auburn is good and has future NFL talent with their running game. They got help, though, from the Cougs. The WSU linebacking corps had a sub-par game against Auburn. Maybe it was the humidity and the travel, but the Cougar linebackers had a hard time making tackles and at times looked flat out slow. Up front, the Tigers were able to come right at Lance Broadus with success. Broadus was basically nullified giving the Tigers plenty of running room to the strong side. Broadus needs to find some lessons learned in that game and apply them right away against Idaho. The Vandals and Erickson will likely want to come right at Broadus also and he needs to step up to the challenge. The Cougar linebackers need to shake off the Auburn game as a fluke and bring their typical game on Saturday. WSU can't afford another flat game from the linebackers, especially if Idaho is finding some running room outside.