Hello Followers. Hope you are doing great.
On Saturday, our Washington State Cougars take on the venerable (and hopefully also vulnerable) UCLA Bruins in Los Angeles. For the Bruins, winning this game would enable them to control their own destiny in the South title chase, while for Washington State a win here—coupled with a Stanford win over Oregon—would put WSU in a commanding position for second place in the North.
It would also pave the way for WSU to claim a berth in the Alamo or Holiday bowls at season’s end—which would, course, make this an historic season for our football program.
So, because we are starting to look history squarely in the face–and because I am old as dirt–I thought I’d pass along a few “Old Man” sports axioms that I think are relevant to taking in this weekend’s contest. They are as follows.
Old Man Sports Axiom 1. Always Enjoy the Climb
We’ve said this on this site before, but there is nothing more enjoyable in sports than watching a young team find itself—especially one that no one saw coming. The Seahawks of 2013 provided one example. The other: the 2006 Washington State men’s basketball team.
During both of these seasons, both the Hawks and the Cougs seemed to find ways to exceed your wildest expectations. And it was so much fun watching them do all of the things that you never dreamed they would be able to do.
Of course, while the subsequent years had better outcomes (Superbowl title, Sweet 16 appearance), they weren’t nearly as enjoyable—at least for me. Because when you’re expected to reach great heights, every weekend feels like an opportunity to lose. In contrast, when you’re making that climb towards becoming a contender, each week is an opportunity to take a big step forward.
And so, as we settle in for a night under the lights at the Rose Bowl, it will be important to remember that this is just about as fun as its ever going to get! So, let’s enjoy this one Cougar fans, shall we?
Old Man Sports Axiom 2. Injuries Always Bite You In the End
This axiom presented itself in a major way last year in the NBA finals when Kyrie Irving went down. We also saw it a bit last year after Connor Halliday went down with that horrible leg injury.
In both cases, the Cavs and the Cougs responded to those big injuries by having out-of-this-world play from their back-ups. However, after a week or two, those back-ups came back down to reality and their teams suffered as a consequence.
In other words, it is not unusual for a team to rise to the occasion and experience unusual success immediately following a big injury. What is unusual, however, is for teams to sustain that success for more than a game or two.
And so, while the Cougs did awfully well with a rebuilt offensive line last week, I’m not sure that we should expect that success to continue. Moreover, while Kyle Sweet played a fantastic second half last week against ASU, one has to wonder how he’ll hold up on those big third and fourth down plays that may determine the outcome of Saturday’s game? My sense: We’re going to miss Dahl and Cracraft a LOT sometime over the coming weeks. On the flip side, when you look at UCLA’s injuries you have to wonder how long they will be able to continue to plug holes in their dam?
Old Man Axiom 3. The Winners (Almost) Always Win.
We’ve seen this one time and time again. Championship teams always seem to find a way to win, while teams that are struggling to find their identities often find a way to lose close games. Of course there are two reasons for this consistent phenomenon: (1) Championship teams are often more talented than their non-contending counterparts; and (2) Teams that play “not to lose” typically get tight and make key mistakes during crunch time.
To wit: This week feels an awful lot like a game that UCLA cannot afford to lose. In contrast, this game feels like one that we really want to get. So, if this game is close, the advantage swings wildly to the Cougs.
Old Man Axiom 4. You Are What Your Record Says You Are.
UCLA is 18th ranked in the country and sitting fat and sassy at 7-2. They have a nice opening win against Virginia, they absolutely STOMPED Arizona in Tuscon, and they manhandled CAL.
In other words, even with a rash of injuries that would have crippled just about anyone else, the Bruins have shown that they can be an explosive and even dominant team.
But upon closer inspection, there is good reason for UCLA to be concerned about this weekend’s contest against WSU. For example, UCLA’s schedule is pretty backloaded in that the Bruins will face 3 of the conferences top 5 teams over the last three weeks of the season. Moreover, the Bruins Pac-12 North “misses” this year were Oregon and Washington–two teams which could have provided a much better barometer of UCLA’s upside and/or potential.
To this point, when UCLA has played “upper division” type teams (and I think ASU is upper division even if their record doesn’t show it), the results have not been kind. For instance, UCLA was absolutely steamrolled by Stanford 56-35 and were similarly run over the week before by ASU in the Rose Bowl. Moreover, UCLA had to mount a serious comeback to beat BYU in their final non-conference tune-up–and that victory was with a healthy Miles Jack. Mind you, beating the now 7-2 “Other Cougars” is nothing to scoff at. But the fact remains that when UCLA has faced good teams, they have not fared very well.
In contrast, when you look at our Washington State Cougars, well, we’re 6-2 after that opening day stinker. And while our record represents EXACTLY who we are as a football team, it is also true that we woulda-coulda-shoulda been victorious in both of our conference losses. We have yet to have been blown out of any game, and with the exception of CAL, every single time that Luke Falk has gotten the ball with a chance to win, he has led his team to a game winning drive (We just happened to miss the kick in the Stanford game).
In other words, not only do I think that we are better than they are, I also think our schedule has us better prepared to play this game.
Keys To Victory
Will Luke Falk Throw for 400 Yards? Yes, I think he throws for 458.
Will WSU Rush for More Than 100 Yards? Yes—and we better because if we rush for less than 90 we will not win this game. I think Wicks has a big night (79 yards) and the others chip in to give us 118. In addition, I think that this group will get 178 all-purpose yards, and we’ll need that to exploit the interior of that UCLA defense.
Will WSU Score 35 or More Points? See Below.
Will WSU be +1 or better in Turnover Margin? Yes, I think we will be +1 (UCLA doesn’t intercept many passes and they have yet to recover a fumble all year.)
I told SeanHawk after last week’s game that if ASU had just run bubble screens all night, we probably would have lost because I don’t think we ever stopped it. And so, I think we can expect that Noel Mazzone and Josh Rosen are going to throw the ball to the outside early and often in this one and then pound it inside to Perkins. So, if we show that we can stop that damn bubble screen, I think UCLA is going to be in for a long night. But if we can’t, UCLA has the firepower across the board to make last week’s near first quarter meldown last for an entire game.
But ultimately, my sense is that this game is going to follow the same course events that we’ve seen all season. I think that we will start fast and furious in what should be perfect weather and I think we’ll enter the lockerroom at halftime up 21-10 or 21-13. After the half, Mora’s group will come out strong, and the game will turn into a barnburner.
In the end, I see us up 38-31 late until Rosen and Perkins find the endzone to tie the game up at 38 with about 1:00 left. Unfortunately for the Bruins, that 1:00 will prove costly. Falk will lead the Cougs on a 70 yard drive, Powell will kick a 34 yarder as time expires, and the Cougs will leave LA with a 41-38 victory in front of a very proud group of family and friends.
USC 41 Colorado 14. Honestly, I hope that USC absolutely slays the morale of Colorado. Because next week sets up as the biggest trap game we’ve had in a long time. So, Fight On! for one more week Trojan nation!
Arizona State 28 Washington 17. Huskies never seem to play well in the desert and I’m just not sure Washington’s young quarterback is ready for all the looks that the Sun Devil D is going to throw at him on Saturday. The result: Washington will be playing for a bowl berth in the Apple Cup. THAT is going to be one heckuva game.
Stanford 42 Oregon 31. This one is going to be so interesting I plan on not watching it. Trees win comfortably.
Utah 31 Arizona 17. Need a cure for an ailing Travis Wilson? How about that Arizona secondary.
CAL 48 Oregon State 13. I actually think this one will be interesting at halftime before CAL explodes for 24 in the 3rd quarter. Man it must suck to be a Beaver fan right now.
Alabama 24 Mississippi State 21. MSU misses a FG as time expires and the Tide escape…
Baylor 35 Oklahoma 31. My sense is that Baylor is going to get this one but will then fall next week in Stillwater against a VERY good Oklahoma State team. Don’t look know, but the Sooners may turn out to be our opponent in the Alamo!!!!
Okay that’s all the time I have for today. Enjoy this weekend’s games as well as the prospect that come Sunday morning, our Washington State Cougars could be ranked 21st in the Country!
All for now. Go Cougs!