The Cougars host Stanford in Pullman on Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is at 2:00 as there's no live TV. It's October in the Palouse - bring a jacket.
It's not cool to say a game is a "must-win" anymore, so consider this instead simply a pivotal game on the schedule that could make or break the 2005 season. The OSU game was a setback, and the Cougars need a Pac-10 win right now against a beatable Stanford team. Stanford appears to be on the verge of free fall with their only win coming in the season opener against Navy. That said, this is a Pac-10 team. A weak Stanford team came up to Pullman last season and handed the Cougs a damaging loss. For whatever reason, historically Stanford has been a difficult game for WSU.
A win in this game puts the Cougars at 4-1 and 1-1 in the Pac-10. After Stanford, the Cougars have UCLA for Homecoming, then travel to Cal and USC on back to back weekends. The schedule isn't getting any easier and the Cougars need Pac-10 wins in the month of October. Starting the Pac-10 at 0-2 would put a severe cramp in any bowl plans involving the Cougs. Here's our CougZone Keys to the Game:
1) Finish in the second half:Let's just not talk about what happened in the last two quarters of Cougar football. If there's a problem you can point to from the soft non-conference schedule, it's that the Cougar first teams have not had to play tough in the second half and put an opponent away in the fourth quarter. Maybe the young Cougs will learn a lot from recent experience. If this team wants to go to a bowl, they will need to play focused football in all four quarters of every remaining Pac-10 game, and Stanford is a good place to start.
2) Special teams: The good news is Loren Langley is 100% on field goal attempts on the season. Money, which is nice. The bad news the kickoffs aren't going in the endzone and the punts seem lower, shorter, and more returnable. These are veteran guys here with Graham Siderius and Kyle Basler. It would really help the young coverage teams to have the kicks consistently go deep for touchbacks. Barring that, making an opponent take the ball inside the five would be good. That's important against Stanford as returner T.J. Rushing is the Cardinal's best current weapon. Rushing can bring the ball upfield fast and far, and had a 93 yard return for a touchdown against Navy. On punts, the Cougs just want to see Basler get his groove back and return to typical superhuman form.
3) Continue running the ball: The Cougars have arguably one of the best running backs in the nation in Jerome Harrison. Harrison is gunning for his eighth straight 100 yard game, and the Dallas Morning News has identified Harrison as one to watch for the Doak Walker Award. Give this guy the ball. Keep on giving this guy the ball. Then give the ball to DeMaundray Woolridge who had consecutive 100 yard games against Nevada and Grambling. The Cougar pass has nice weapons, but it would help Alex Brink get back in the saddle a lot faster if he doesn't have to throw more than 30 or 35 times against Stanford.