Cougs’ toughest tests yet to come

WSU has exceeded expectations so far, can team continue success?



Redshirt junior running back James Williams breaks through the Oregon State University defense and runs the ball into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter Saturday at Reser Stadium in Corvallis.

RYAN MOSHER, Evergreen reporter

Prior to this season, Cougar football was predicted to finish fifth in the North division in the Pac-12 media poll. Halfway through its schedule, WSU is 5-1. Will the success dry up soon or will the Cougars prove they deserve more attention?

The only loss currently blemishing their record is a narrow game against the University of Southern California, which could have easily gone the other way if a fourth quarter kick hadn’t been blocked or a targeting penalty would’ve been called against Trojans’ senior outside linebacker Porter Gustin.

However, the Cougars’ schedule only gets tougher from here. The question now is will the season fold into a rebuilding year or will they prove they deserve to be looked at for the Associated Press Top 25?

The upcoming game against No. 17 University of Oregon could make or break this season. The Ducks have a potent offense that will stretch the Speed D.

It all starts with a top-tier offensive line, which Pro Football Focus graded as the third best in the country this season. On top of that, Oregon junior quarterback Justin Herbert is having a Heisman candidate season and is currently expected by many to be the first quarterback taken in the 2019 draft. Through five games Herbert has 15 touchdowns to five interceptions and 1,411 passing yards.

However, the Ducks have a weak link — their defense. Through the first five games of the season, the Oregon defense has allowed 24.4 points per game. The Ducks also have allowed 346.8 yards per game and 238.2 passing yards per game, which makes it a prime target for the nation’s leading passer: WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew II.

However the Oregon game ends, which I predict will most likely be a loss, WSU still has plenty of chances to grab that sixth win and become bowl-eligible. There are a few games where I am willing to call them easy favorites.

I’d mark Stanford University in the win column for the Cougs. They beat the Cardinal last year, and star running back Bryce Love has had trouble staying healthy this season while junior quarterback KJ Costello has a touchdown to interception ratio of 2:1 and has been sacked 14 times in six games.

University of California, Berkeley, is still figuring out who its starting quarterback is. In the start of the season Cal was rotating the position throughout games. Then freshman Chase Garbers was the starter … until he wasn’t. Sophomore Brandon McIlwain got the most recent start at the position, but who’s to say if he’ll keep it?

“It’s a trap” seems appropriate for the game against No. 19 University of Colorado Boulder. Sure, the team has had a pretty easy schedule so far, cruising past teams who can’t match its talent, but a 5-0 start should never be scoffed, especially because it is the only undefeated team in the Pac-12.

The biggest reason I think the Buffs will walk away with the win is the strength of sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr., who is my dark horse candidate for the Heisman this year. Shenault has 51 catches for 708 receiving yards with an average of 13.9-yards per reception.

He has 10 touchdowns on the season, including four on the ground, and he has taken snaps in the wildcat formation. He even made a tackle his freshman year. Sheanult is the ultimate weapon and I think he will prove too much for the Cougs’ defense.

The University of Arizona is a middle-of-the-pack team and I think WSU could walk away with the win in Martin Stadium.

Arizona has a strong offense, scoring 30.33 points per game, but its defense will be another easy target for the Air Raid as it gives up 230 passing yards per game.

And finally, the biggest game of every season for WSU — the Apple Cup. No. 7 University of Washington will be the toughest team the Cougars face this season, led by star players like senior quarterback Jake Browning, junior wide receiver Aaron Fuller and senior linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven.

The Huskies have a reliable connection in Browning to Fuller which has proven to be potent this season. Besides an offense that scores 29.2 points per game and racks up 442.7 yards per game, UW has a strong defense too.

The defensive unit only allows 13.7 points per game and 204.5 total yards per game. It’s one of the best rivalries in college football for a reason and I predict this years’ game will be a close one.

At least closer than last year’s, that is.

The Cougars are 5-1 through their first six games led by Leach’s explosive Air Raid offense. However, they have time to adjust under Defensive Coordinator Tracy Claeys before we can hope to finish in the AP Top-25. In its final six games I predict WSU will go 3-3 finishing 8-4 with a good bowl game appearance.

But by 2019, I think WSU will be getting national attention.