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Sports >  WSU football

Washington State mailbag: Where can you watch the Cougars on Saturday? What’s up with Jahad Woods? Who has the better WR corps, Wazzu or SC?

PULLMAN – Well, now that the Cougars have a real game under their belt, we have at least a vague idea of what they’ll look like in 2019.

In this week’s mailbag, I address how viewers at home can watch the Cougars this Saturday against Northern Colorado (some of you won’t be able to), Jahad Woods’ status/potential replacement and how WSU’s wide receiver corps stacks up against the highly-touted wideout group down at USC.

Is the game this weekend going to be shown ONLY on Pac-12 Washington? SDSU vs UCLA is on at 1:15 p.m. on Pac-12 Networks (national), and WSU vs Northern Colorado is on at 2 p.m. on Pac-12 WA. Will the WSU game be shown in WA on channel 628 on Comcast this weekend or will that channel be showing the SDSU-UCLA game?

– Nathan S.

It’s my understanding that, yes, only television subscribers with access to Pac-12 Washington will be able to view Saturday’s game with the main network showing San Diego State at UCLA, which kicks off at 2 p.m.

TV Guide is helpful resource for anyone wondering about this, but to answer question, channel 628 on Comcast (Pac-12 Network) will indeed be showing Aztecs-Bruins, rather than WSU-Northern Colorado, and I don’t see an alternate listing for the Pac-12 Washington channel that will be airing Cougars-Bears.

I’m a Dish subscriber and have access to the main network, along with a few alternate channels that usually show overlapping Pac-12 football games. So in this instance, I’ll be able to get both UCLA-SDSU and WSU-UNC. I live in Washington, but I believe even those of you living out of state would be able to stream Pac-12 Washington via the alternate channels.

I believe some Comcast XFINITY packages will allow Washington residents to access the Pac-12 Washington channel on Saturday, while others won’t. And though it isn’t the ideal college football setup for those of you that have massive television sets and comfy couches, all Comcast XFINITY subscribers with access to at least the main Pac-12 Network channel have the option to stream Saturday’s game from your phone, laptop or web tablet via the Pac-12 Now app.

Extent of Jahad Woods’ injury? Replacement? What do you expect the result to be?

– Cougar D.

I’m unable to provide any specific details about Woods’ injury and as you know Mike Leach refrains from doing that as well, but my own hunch is the All-Pac-12 linebacker suits up and plays on Saturday, even if it’s in a limited role. In other words, I don’t suspect Woods is out long-term and if he doesn’t play against Northern Colorado, I suspect that would only be precautionary.

We also saw him walking off the practice field Wednesday wearing full practice attire. I’m not here to speculate what that means, but it reinforces what I mentioned in the last paragraph: this doesn’t appear to be a serious injury, if it’s an injury at all.

In the event Woods doesn’t play, the Cougars have a few different options. Hank Pladson is listed as the second “Will” linebacker on the depth chart and the walk-on of course excelled in the season opener, snagging a one-handed interception at a point when the game was already decided.

So, Pladson is an option and I’m not entirely sure it would matter much anyway in a nonconference game against a team that was pegged to finish last in the Big Sky. However, the more viable option would be to fill the spot backup “Mike” linebacker Dillon Sherman, who’s played both inside linebacker roles at WSU and obviously has the edge on Pladson in career reps. Starting “Mike” Justus Rogers could also slide over to “Will” and Sherman could take over at “Mike.”

“If you have time, you try to start your best two without screwing everything up,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “That would be our first thing, but if Hank did our best that week in practice and was ready to go, then that’s what we would do. The one thing you don’t want to do there is throw everybody out of whack when they’re used to playing something.”

Usually, Dominick Silvels would be another backup choice, but the status of the former “Rush” linebacker is unclear. Silvels didn’t play in the season opener and wasn’t seen on the field during pregame warmups.

Coaches have been thrilled with the development of true freshman Travion Brown, who they’ve called one of the most mature players on the team for his age. He made his college debut last Saturday and may be able to overtake a few upperclassmen by the time the season ends.

Why didn’t Leach challenge New Mexico States touchdown? It appeared the ball carrier’s elbow was down with the ball at the 1-yard line. Does Leach have someone reviewing plays and letting him know whether or not to challenge?

– David H.

The touchdown came at such an early point in the game, I’m not sure the coaches figured it was worth a challenge. In hindsight, I’ll bet every player on the defense would’ve lobbied for it, knowing it could’ve been the difference between conceding seven points and posting the unit’s fourth shutout in as many years.

As you noted, the video evidence did seem to indicate Jason Huntley’s elbow hit the ground. Perhaps the coaches let it slide knowing the Aggies would’ve still had second-and-goal from the 1-yard line on the next play.

Tracy Claeys and a handful of defensive assistants/graduate assistants spend the game in the press box and each of the suites are equipped with television monitors, so I’d imagine coaches watched the replay a few times before deciding to skip out on a challenge.

Is it a good sign or bad sign for our defense that McDougle hasn’t won the starting job at Nose?

– Rob E.

I’d only start to worry about this when the defensive line is underperforming AND McDougle is still the second or third option at nose tackle. For now, it’s definitely, postively a good sign.

Though McDougle has the accolades, or accolade, that grabbed everyone’s attention when he transferred in from West Virginia, it’s still important to remember he’s only a redshirt sophomore and hasn’t had much time playing in WSU’s scheme. The Mountaineers’ defense ranked just 109th nationally and the defensive line used a three-man front almost exclusively, which limited McDougle’s opportunities as a pass-rusher.

WSU’s schemes – and the pre-snap movement the Cougars like to utilize – are unique and I imagine pretty difficult to master overnight.

Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei is ahead of both McDougle and Dallas Hobbs on the depth chart and got decent playing experience as a backup last season. Coaches praise his work ethic and attitude and, much as McDougle hasn’t done a lot to win the job, Aiolupotea-Pei hasn’t done anything to give it away.

“It’s whoever’s the most productive in practice, then we’ll see what happens in the game,” Claeys said. “That’s how that’s handled not just Lamonte but everybody on that board.”

Do you have any information about what’s going on with Dom Sivels? I know he didn’t play in the game and isn’t involved with team activities at the moment. Based off of that, do you think his addition back to the defense would benefit them after the shaky tackling that happened against NMSU?

– Caleb H.

Silvels can certainly help the Cougars, especially after we saw how productive he was at “Rush” last season, basically seving as a co-starter alongside Willie Taylor III. He played in all 13 games last season, matched Peyton Pelluer for the team lead in sacks (4½) and had 7½ tackles-for-loss.

Next to Woods, and potentially Travion Brown, Silvels is definitely the best athlete the Cougars have at either of the inside linebacker positions and I assumed he’d be a strong asset for the Cougars, who often rotate three, four or five players through the “Will” and “Mike” spots.

But as you noted, Silvels didn’t play in the opener and as far as I know, didn’t attend it. He was a practice participant before those were closed off to the media, so my assumption would be that he suffered some sort of injury between Aug. 21 and last Saturday.

Any idea as to why coach Claeys and coach Phelps did not have the DL do their customary stems/shifts in Week 1? To what extent do you think that accounted for the difficulty they experienced generating a consistent pass rush?

– Coug-A S.

First and foremost, Tracy Claeys noted “that’s a good observation” when I inquired about this after Wednesday’s practice. So, props to the questioner on this one. Where should I send your plaque?

Under the Alex Grinch regime, the Cougars began to utilize pre-snap movmement in an effort to catch offensive lines off-guard and force opponents to think about how they should adjust right before the snap, which in turn gives the defense an advantage.

A trademark of the Grinch era has remained one under Claeys, the second-year defensive coordinator who held onto most of the concepts and schemes that worked for Grinch when he took over last spring.

As noted in the question above, the Cougars mostly refrained from moving before the snap in Saturday’s opener against New Mexico State. A change in identity? Not necessarily. As Claeys explains below, he wants his defensive linemen to gain some experience playing next to one another before installing the stunts, stems and twists that have allowed the Cougars to be so successful up front against a few of the Pac-12’s elite offensive lines.

“No, we didn’t do as much, we didn’t do as much,” Claeys said. “Early in the season, you’re a little bit cautious with it just because you don’t know of any motions and shifts and things like that, the linebacker part. So we were just careful with it and the more film we get, the more we’ll crank it up.”

And, there’s something to be said for not showing your hand too early…

Have you seen much of USC’s wide receivers? How do you think the Cougs compare?

– Jennifer D.

I haven’t watched them extensively and was already in the press box at Martin Stadium by the time USC and Fresno State kicked off, and the majority of press box occupants wanted to watch the Oregon-Auburn game instead. (What a bunch of weirdos)

What I know about them is what I’ve read and what I remember covering the game between the Cougars and Trojans last September at the Coliseum. Yes, yes, I’m aware we don’t like to talk about that game in these parts…

Both of these receiving corps are top-10 in the nation, hands down, and could be top-five. I thought USC’s wideouts were the reason the Trojans won in Los Angeles last season, but had a few things gone differently – err, one pretty big thing – I may have been saying the same about the Cougar receivers.

I’m really interested to watch SC’s studs play in the new Trojan Raid offense. WSU has already established a culture that allows eight different players to share catches, yards and touchdowns without much complaint.

At USC, it’s typically been one or two players sharing the spotlight and the Trojans have churned out some great ones. Juju Smith-Schuster, Nelson Agholor, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods have all used USC as a stepping stone to the NFL, and the current crop of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Michael Pittman Sr., Tyler Vaughns Sr. and Velus Jones is as good as the Trojans have had in recent memory.

But, in Graham Harrell’s new offense, will they all be willing to share the rock?

WSU led the country in passing yards through 12 regular-season games last season, but none of the Cougar receivers wound up on the all-conference teams – perhaps the biggest compliment you could’ve paid to the group.

While I’m not totally sold, USC’s top four players may be better than WSU’s. However, I don’t think the Trojans compare to the Cougars 1-8.

Here’s how Pac-12 Networks analyst Yogi Roth, a former WR coach at USC, sized up the battle when I asked him to compare the groups a few weeks ago:

“I think very comparable to USC’s,” Roth said. “I watched them run around and you look at Tay Martin, Easop Winston, Dezmon Patmon and then you meet them in person and see how big they really are. Let alone the redshirt freshman, Rodrick Fisher. I mean he looks the part. Then you look at some of the young guys, 13 (Donovan Ollie), the other big dude (Brandon Gray). Just huge human beings. I mean they look the part. As does SC. I think they collectively, if you took the top four at SC, you can make arguments for the top four at Washington State.”

Was Gordon’s 12 yards per attempt an aberration or is he going to be going downfield more than Minshew and Falk? Is he more like Halliday?

– Cougar D.

Every fan, coach and player would love for Anthony Gordon to finish the season averaging 12 yards per attempt, but no, it doesn’t seem like a realistic number. Consider that Gardner Minshew led the country in passing during the 2018 regular season and averaged only 7.2 yards per attempt.

Gordon got some help from the opponent in Saturday’s opener and a bunch more from his receivers, who turned a few of the short pops into big gains to help inflate the final statistics.

Do I think 12 yards per attempt is possible? No, I don’t. Do I think Gordon is willing to stretch the field quite a bit more than the Leach’s last two starters? He does seem to carry the gunslinger gene, certainly more than Falk did and probably a tad more than Minshew.

Here’s what Leach said about it after Wednesday’s practice: “He’s not afraid to go downfield, that’s always been one of his strong points. The other thing is, he puts it on people real suddenly, so I think that’s one of his strengths.”

So, this wasn’t a total aberration and I expect we’ll see a few more deep heaves from Gordon when he’s comfortable doing it. But, I’m sure when the Cougars face stronger defensive secondaries (Utah, Cal, Washington), the redshirt senior will defer to taking what the opponent gives him – similar to what Falk and Minshew did in some of their marquee wins at WSU.

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