OFFENSE, DEFENSE, HEIGHT, weight, size, speed. In the game of college football, all have changed markedly over the years. But there's at least one thing that's remained the same and ample evidence was presented on the Cougars' off day this practice week. Meanwhile, Washington State is healthy, a pair of defenders are showing improvement, and just how comfortable is Bill Doba headed into Tucson?
Jerry Kramer, the great offensive guard from Vince Lombardi's Green Bay teams by way of Idaho, wrote forty years ago the Packers had to start working up a strong determination to win -- as well as a high level of general dislike for their opponent -- from the get-go each week in order to win -- it couldn't just be turned on late on Thursday or Friday.
Washington State had little problem in that regard this week.
Monday is the players' off day, a time for the Cougs to rest body and mind before cranking things up on Tuesday. But a large number of Cougar players came in on their own on Monday anyway, unable to wait to look at tape and get ready for 'Zona. And there was one other thing.
They were ticked off.
Nobody likes to get their tails kicked and certainly not on national TV, but that's what happened to the Cougs against USC. Many went to L.A. expecting to win, what the rest of the country was saying about Wazzu's chances be damned. And they expected the game to at least be close. Neither happened, and the result was a bunch of angry Cougars in and around Bohler on Monday.
Couple that with the loss to Arizona a year ago and this one would seem to have all the makings of a good ol' fashioned slobber-knocking donnybrook.
How it all translates to the field remains to be seen but one thing would seem assured. The Cougs will not be lacking for motivation. An edge has been present all week long, even since before they started formal preparations for Arizona on Tuesday.
WHAT BILL DOBA will do on defense against Arizona also remains to be seen, a coach can't exactly detail for everyone the game plan. It could be more nickel and dime packages (five or six defensive backs), dropping a d-end off into pass coverage on passing downs, adding another linebacker to the mix to try and take away more of the drag routes, more blitzing, more zone blitzes -- it could be any, none, or a combination of all the above.
But whatever the defensive game plan is, Doba likes it.
"I'm very comfortable with our plan," he said. "I think we've got a real good plan."
The Cougs will need one. The game is expected to be a shootout, with the preferred mode of pigskin transportation coming via the air. Arizona has run 294 offensive plays through four games, and 201 of them have been passes. Willie Tuitama leads the league in passing yardage at 313 hashes per game.
In passing efficiency, however, the stat many gauge a quarterback by, Tuitama ranks sixth in league and No. 54 in the nation. Alex Brink? Even with the rough outing in Southern Cal last week, Brink heads into Arizona at No. 3 in the Pac-10 and No. 18 in the country.
Lance Broadus will probably start at the defensive end spot opposite Matt Mullennix, though Doba wouldn't rule out Kevin Kooyman getting the nod. Mike Graise (dislocated finger) is also expected to get turns.
IF THE COUGS are going to walk out of the desert win a W, they'll likely need to do a better job in stopping the Wildcats on third downs.
"Everybody's going to throw the ball on us. And this (Arizona) team especially. We've had two really bad (pass defense) games," said Doba.
Washington State has been emphasizing third down conversion and tackling drills all year long during practice and if their form holds true, this may be the week the worm begins to turn -- particularly in the secondary.
"If you look at the Wisconsin game, they were maybe 2-3 yards off (when the receiver made the catch) and they got a little closer against San Diego State in the second half. Then they were maybe a yard off against Idaho. I thought last week (at USC) they were catching it (many times) as we were hitting them so if we can keep improving, the next step is to be in front of them and intercept it or knock it down," said Doba.
TWO D-LINEMEN have been showing improvement, said Doba, with both DT Fevaea'i Ahmu and DE Jesse Feagin having good practice weeks. Reserve cornerback Brian Williams will not make the trip due to injury (stinger) but just about everyone else is set to jet.
While the Cougs have the usual "bumps and bruises" present on any team heading into Week 5, the Cougs go into Saturday's tilt quite healthy, a marked departure from recent years past at this same point.
THE PUNTING DUTIES Saturday night will fall to either Darryl Blunt or Wade Penner. Doba said he wouldn't decide until the pregame warm-ups.
Blunt fumbled a snap against USC leading to an early Trojan touchdown and Penner replaced him for the rest of the game, the walk-on averaging just under 40 yards on five kicks.
DOBA SAID he'd been told of the two teams Arizona's hosted, (Northern Arizona, New Mexico), with as much as the Wildcats throw it, the early season desert heat had taken a toll in the fourth quarter.
Temperature at kickoff Saturday is expected to be right around the 80 degree mark, with the mercury falling to right around 70 by the end of the game. The lack of humidity in the desert should also make things easier.
For what it's worth, in fall camp this year, the Cougs had their best showings, and strikingly so, at night.