The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

‘It just takes one;’ Cougs seek to halt collapse

WSU returns to the Palouse looking to stop the slide and hunt bowl eligibility
WSU wide reciever Lincoln Victor (85) and linebacker Kyle Thornton (52) attempt to tackle Stanford running back Casey Filkins on a punt return during the first half of a college football game on Oct. 16, 2021, at Martin Stadium.

Saturday, Oct. 7, WSU gets ready to play UCLA fresh off a bye week, ranked No. 13 in the country and finally getting their well-deserved attention. Fast forward to now, the Cougs (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) head into a matchup with the Stanford Cardinal (2-6, 1-5 Pac-12) and nobody is certain they will exit the victor.

Things have begun to spiral for Wazzu, at least record-wise, but WSU head coach Jake Dickert said the team has been able to stay together, and that that same team from the first four weeks is still in the locker room.

“It just takes one you know, we talked about that this morning too. We felt the same way going into Arizona State with that opportunity,” Dickert said. “Five weeks ago, we’re on top of the world and that team’s still sitting in that room. So why did your belief change or why would it change?”

The Cougs have begun to regain their early season form on the offensive side of the ball, at least through the air, but the defense still has major issues. The biggest problem has been overcoming doubt, Dickert said.

“As you let doubt creep in, now you don’t trust your assignment. Now you’re not doing your job, now you’re not executing to the best of your ability,” Dickert said. “I do believe that’s what happened, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Defense is about doing your job and owning every piece of it because you can’t do it alone.”

The key philosophically is to get back to the basics, and trust each other while each taking care of their own jobs, Dickert said. From a game-planning perspective, however, the key is to stop the run.

WSU gave up 235 rushing yards to Arizona State last week, and as a result could not unleash their pass rushers, ultimately leading to recording zero sacks in the game. The key this week, like every other week, is to stop the run and earn the right to rush the passer, Dickert said.

The defensive unit is going up against a Stanford team offensively that ranks 186th in the country with 22.8 points per game and just 128 rushing yards per game, ranking 177th. As a unit the Cardinal averages 379 yards per game but was able to put up 33 points and 499 yards against Washington last week, outgaining the Huskies by 39.

Stanford is led by sophomore quarterback Ashton Daniels, who has been brilliant his last three starts, most notably throwing for 396 yards and four TDs against Colorado, and most recently throwing for 367 yards, one TD and running for 85 yards and a TD against UW. 

“They’re a team on the rise. I think anytime you go into the season and don’t know who you’re quarterback is, that’s gonna slow you down. Obviously [Daniels] has been phenomenal. He reminds me of Cam [Ward] ish. He’s really hard to bring down and sack, he’s very accurate with the ball. They’re very willing to take the ball down field and their scheme is very unique,” Dickert said.

Dickert described their scheme as an under-center double-wing, but it just goes to show nobody can be slept on in the Pac-12. 

Aware of the issues, Dickert said in this week’s press conference that he intends to insert himself into the game-planning and playcalling, at least defensively, more so this week. It plays into his former role as defensive coordinator before he took over as the head coach.

The defense could potentially be getting reinforcements this week as star corner Chau Smith-Wade has been back to limited practice after missing last week’s game. He is questionable for Saturday. Edge rusher Quinn Roff is also back in the weight room but will miss this week’s game with hopes of returning next week.

Some say the best defense, however, is a good offense. After a top-five start to the season, the Cougar offense ran into a brick wall coming out of the bye week. In the last two games, the Cougs have begun to regain life, in large part thanks to Ward.

Ward is completing over 70% of his passes over the last two weeks, throwing for 438 and 315 yards respectively while also tossing two TDs with no turnovers in that span. He also had two rushing TDs against ASU last week.

Ward appears to be regaining his early-season form, but could certainly use some help on the ground. Wazzu appeared to be making a breakthrough in the rushing game last week as they had 88 yards and averaged over four yards per carry on the day, but just as things were looking up, starting running back Nakia Watson went out with an injury.

The Cougs are already thin at the position with Jaylen Jenkins being dismissed from the team earlier this year and Dylan Paine missing last week with a high ankle sprain. Paine is set to miss this week’s game as well, Watson on the other hand has a chance. Dickert said nothing was broken but he has not yet practiced, he is questionable for Saturday.

If he is unable to go, it will be up to redshirt freshman Djouvensky Schlenbaker, true freshman Leo Pulalasi and QBs Ward and John Mateer to carry the load. All things considered, it is most likely to be another pass-heavy day for the Cougs.

The good news for WSU is Stanford allows 37.5 points per game, ranking 271st in the country. Also, playing into the Coug’s favor is the worst pass defense in the Pac-12, owned by the Cardinal who are allowing 322.5 yards per game.

UW QB Micheal Penix Jr. had a huge day for the Huskies against Stanford last week with 369 yards and four TDs, while the Huskies, who are only above WSU and Colorado in rushing yards per game in the Pac-12, saw starting back Dillon Johnson average 4.7 yards per carry on 18 runs.

Wazzu took care of the Cardinal last year 52-14 on the road, with Ward going for 176 yards and two TDs through the air, also had their best day on the ground with Watson running for 166 yards and a touchdown. The defense also shined in the matchup getting home for two sacks and recovering four fumbles.

With the season winding down and only four more games left on the Cougar’s schedule, this is a crucial one, not just to stop the slide and regain momentum, but to help keep their bowl hopes alive.

WSU’s seven-season bowl streak is certainly at risk and they need six wins to be eligible this year. If the Cougs hope to play past November 25, they have to take care of opponents like Stanford. 

Wazzu will welcome Stanford at 6 p.m. Saturday at Gesa Field.

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About the Contributors
LUKE WESTFALL, Evergreen sports co-editor
Luke Westfall is a junior in Broadcast News from Custer, WA. He is an avid fanatic of the many sports at many levels who spends all his available time indulging in them. Luke began working at the Evergreen in Spring 2022.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.