With SMU on the docket for Saturday, can we put all the new quarterback stuff, the Jeshua Anderson resignation (see below) and the injuries behind us for a little while? We want to see how WSU is getting ready to play the Mustangs, a spitting image of Hawaii. What’s that you say? Are there differences? Oh, sure. For that, read on.
• Paul Wulff came right and said it Tuesday. Playing SMU a week after facing Hawaii is a bonus in some ways for WSU. The two offenses – both run-and-shoot – were originally put in place by one person, current SMU and former Hawaii coach June Jones. But they aren’t perfect matches. “There are a lot of similarities and there is help in the preparation,” Wulff said. “The only little difference is SMU tries to run the ball a little bit more and they really try to get the ball to their running back (Shawnbrey McNeal), who’s a good football player. So you’re going to see more throws to him, a few more runs to him. That will be different than what Hawaii did. But their quarterback (Bo Levi Mitchell) does a really nice job of getting rid of the ball quickly, doesn’t take a lot of sacks. It’s his second year in the system and he’s a solid, solid college football player. So he’s done a good job.” But just how similar are the two offenses? After talking with co-defensive coordinator Chris Ball and defensive back Brandon Jones, we think we can point out the subtle differences. For one thing, SMU plays a tight end at times – though none is listed among its starters. That gives the running attack, spearheaded by McNeal, one more blocker. And has helped McNeal rush for 215 yards in two games, averaging 20 carries a game. Even now, Hawaii doesn’t have a running back with more than 14 carries – total. “They run the ball a little more,” Jones said Wednesday. “They may use a couple different formations, but nothing major.” So the offense WSU runs up against Saturday is enough like the one the Cougars faced last week the players feel better prepared. “Because of last week, we know what our weak spots were and everything,” Jones said, “in what we were doing and trying to do. So this week we have a chance to improve on it. Now we know what we’ve got to work on and where we’ve got to be.”
• So what will the Cougars do differently after being torched by Hawaii in the first 20 minutes last Saturday? Ball wouldn’t go into specifics, but he did say “we got some things fixed. Things that needed to be fixed.” And Ball was able to give a pretty good explanation of why he thinks WSU will be better ready to handle the run-and-shoot this week. “We spent two-a-days in camp working on the run for Stanford,” Ball said. “Then we had three days to prepare for a complicated passing game. That was quite a bit of difference. That hurt us a lot. This week, we’re a little more prepared, the players are, for this.” Jones sees it almost like having a bye week plus a regular week to get ready for an opponent. “All in all, it just helps us to game plan,” he said. “It’s like we’ve seen it already, we know what there going to come at us with. So everybody’s ready. It’s like another week of preparation.” And a little experience with the run-and-shoot really helps. Jones pointed to the second half of the Hawaii game as proof of that. “We know we can do this,” he said. “We came out in the second half and showed that. We’ve got to be able to do that from the start to the finish.”
• With Jeshua Anderson giving up football, Kevin Norrell suspended for the season and Gino Simone out this week, the Cougar receiving corps has been thinned a little. Daniel Blackledge, Jared Karstetter and Jeffrey Solomon will get the start, though don’t be surprised to see WSU use it’s two-tight-end, power-running game more this week. The Mustangs are giving up almost 150 yards a game on the ground and almost 5 yards a carry. Plus, they’ve been outscored 39-24 in the second half, which might mean they can be worn down. If James Montgomery – he sat out again Wednesday, letting his knee recover – is ready to go, expect a big dose of him. But if he isn’t? Expect Dwight Tardy and Logwone Mitz to get more than the usual share of rushing attempts. … The biggest loss this week might be Zack Williams, who gave the Cougars a power blocker to move behind. Steven Ayers got more reps inside at guard today, with Tyson Pencer working at left tackle. The 6-foot-7, 297-pound Pencer was moving better today than I’ve seen all year, which may mean he’s getting more comfortable with his assignments and duties, allowing him to think less and react more. … Aire Justin returned to the practice field to give the Cougars more depth at the corner, but the player who impressed the most today was Eric Block. With LeAndre Daniels and Tyree Toomer out for the season, Block has inherited the role as the third safety. He seemed to relish it today, with a diving interception and a handful of big plays that earned comment from the coaches. Jay Matthews also took snaps, but banged his shoulder in a drill and was iced up midway through practice. … Up front, Jesse Feagin, who is a key cog on the defensive line, missed practice due to illness.
• That’s it for tonight. We’ll be back in the morning. Until then …