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Sports >  WSU football

Two-minute drill: Keys to victory for Washington State against Arizona

Nov. 18, 2021 Updated Thu., Nov. 18, 2021 at 6:07 p.m.

By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

Don’t take your eyes off …

Will it be a bounce-back game for Washington State’s big men up front? Of course, the Cougars’ opponent this week is not comparable to last week’s foe – a College Football Playoff contender in Oregon, which enjoys easily the Pac-12’s best defensive front, a unit that is debatably among the country’s most talented. WSU was without starting senior center Brian Greene, who’ll probably be away from the team again when WSU hosts Arizona on Friday as he deals with what interim coach Jake Dickert called a “personal matter.” Right guard Cade Beresford was suited up after sustaining a lower-body injury a couple of weeks prior, but he never entered the game. The Cougs were limited to 52 yards rushing before a garbage-time touchdown drive late in the game. They were averaging 2.3 yards per carry through three quarters, and quarterback Jayden de Laura never looked comfortable in an often-collapsing pocket. UA, a 1-9 outfit playing with nothing to lose, tends to bring pressure under first-year defensive coordinator Don “Dr. Blitz” Brown. The Wildcats have posted 19 sacks, which ranks fourth in the Pac-12.

When WSU has the ball …

Four Cougar players interviewed in news conferences this week were asked by a reporter to name their MVPs for both sides of the ball this season, and when providing their answers for offense, three of them replied with de Laura. With two weeks to go in the regular season, the spirited sophomore from Hawaii is the Pac-12’s passing champion. He leads the league in both touchdowns (19) and yards per game (249.7). “He’s matured as a person and … is just being that player we need him to be,” linebacker Jahad Woods said. “He’s been tremendous for us.” De Laura is coming off arguably his toughest outing of the year in a 38-24 loss at No. 3 Oregon last weekend, during which he had constant pressure in his face and was forced into three turnovers. The Wildcats’ pass defense has fared well, in terms of yards allowed (193.6). They rank second in the conference in that category, a surprising mark – because UA is among the Pac-12’s worst in almost every other defensive stat column. The Wildcats, however, have only logged four picks against 19 passing TDs conceded, and they’ve given up 34 explosive passes – 15 or more yards – including gainers of 73, 67, 62, 51 and 51 yards. Meanwhile, the Cougars are making it a point to test opponents downfield more often. With WSU’s two slotbacks in Calvin Jackson Jr. and Travell Harris continuing their superb play, and with freshman outside receiver De’Zhaun Stribling steadily improving – he had 51 yards and a score last week – the timing feels right for de Laura to get back to those big-game heroics we’d seen earlier this year. He’s been all right over the past few weeks, but hasn’t recaptured the magic he showed last month, when he shined in back-to-back wins Oct. 9 and 16 against Oregon State and Stanford.

When Arizona has the ball …

WSU interim coach Dickert took it upon himself after the Cougs’ defeat in Eugene last weekend – this team needs to improve in its run stop. It’s a phase of the game that Dickert has emphasized throughout his 14-year coaching career. But it’s been somewhat of a struggle this season for the Cougars, who rank ninth in the Pac-12 at 176 yards allowed per game on the ground. They’ve been gouged for over 200 yards five times this year, and most recently were rolled over by the Ducks for 306 yards and four touchdowns. “We need to be more physical at the point of attack,” Dickert said. “It starts with coaching. I gotta make sure I’m putting our guys in the best situations to be successful every play.” The Wildcats are splitting the rushing and passing attempts at exactly a 50% clip. Statistically, they have been a touch more effective on the ground, averaging 133.8 yards per game and 3.7 per carry. Three UA running backs – Drake Anderson, Michael Wiley and Jalen John – have accumulated over 200 yards apiece. Expect a healthy rotation, and for the Wildcats to look to the run game early on against a Coug defense that’s still recovering from a rough showing on that front. When Arizona does pass, keep an eye on No. 1 Stanley Berryhill III. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior is one of the league’s most dynamic pass-catchers. He’s fifth in the Pac-12 in receiving with 595 yards.

‘Code Cougs’ – a team mindset

During his Monday media session, Dickert sported a hoodie that read “Code Cougs” – a defensive mantra that “I’d love to be a team mindset some day,” he said. He was asked to summarize the slogan. Dickert adopted an early form of the expression during his time as a defensive assistant at North Dakota State (2008-10). In essence, it means: “Play hard, play fast, play together.” Since Dickert took over as acting coach, the Cougars have performed with a never-say-die attitude and shared the production – a key part of “Code Cougs,” Dickert said. “I think that’s what you’re seeing,” he said. “What I tell our guys all the time is: We know their height, their weight, their movement ability and all that stuff. But what we can never measure is their heart and what’s inside of them. You want to make sure the best thing you can give your teammates is your effort. … If they don’t care who gets the credit, there’s such passion and purpose and intent with what they’ll do in their actions.”

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