On the surface, when looking at last week’s opener, it may look like the Washington State Cougars have improved over last year’s 3-9 campaign or improved over their 12-49 record over the last five years. The Cougars did go into SEC country and play the Auburn Tigers down to the last whistle, ultimately falling short. A closer look will give you pause in thinking they have improved, just yet. This is an Auburn team that also went 3-9 last year. It very well could have been two very bad teams that were evenly matched, playing a very competitive game.
One thing that sticks out is how successful Auburn was in running the ball. Auburn ran up 394 total yards against the Cougars’ defense and 295 of that was on the ground. There was a commitment to the run by Auburn, which is illustrated in their 46 rushing attempts (6.4 ypc) and it was very successful game plan for them.
Lane Kiffin should implement this same game plan. Last week in Hawaii, the Trojans’ toted the rock 45 times against the Warriors and rolled up 192 yards. So it would make sense that the game plan is to exploit this Cougars’ defense on the ground. The Trojans’ should try to equal their rushing attempt total from last week and physically take it to the Cougars.
Not only does this protect your quarterback by forcing the defense to bring extra defenders into the box to stop the run, it also demoralizes and tires out the defense if you are successful in your attack. With Silas Redd making his return and joining Tre Madden and Justin Davis in the backfield after their success last week, the Trojans’ should have plenty of carries to throw at the Cougars.
The Cougars run a 3-4 defensive front with senior Ioane Gauta (6-3, 285) at the nose and Kalafitoni Poole (6-1, 302) and Xavier Cooper (6-4, 303) at the ends. Nose is the linchpin of a 3-4 defensive front and Gauta seems especially undersized. A consistent pounding and double team on Gauta should allow push up the middle and allow Max Tuerk and John Martinez to get to the next level to clear out the middle linebackers.
Manning the two middle linebacker positions will be Darryl Monroe (6-1, 235) and Justin Sagote (6-0, 218). On the outside will be Destiny Vaeao (6-4, 290) and Cyrus Coen (6-0, 215). Vaeao is really a defensive end playing a stand-up linebacker position. He doesn’t seem to excel in space or in coverage. Look for Kiffin to exploit him in the passing game when it presents itself. When the Cougars switch to a four man front, he will drop down and put his hand in the dirt. The best of the linebacker group would be Monroe, the redshirt sophomore who earned honorable mention all-conference last year. He flies around the field and has a great nose for the ball. The Trojans will need to ensure that they get a hat on him and frustrate him throughout the evening.
In the secondary the Cougars will line-up Damante Horton (5-10, 178) at corner to the field and Nolan Washington (5-11, 192) will play corner to the boundary. Taylor Taliulu (5-11, 196) and Deon Bucannon (6-1, 215) will play free and strong safety respectively. Of these four, Bucannon is the one that the Trojans’ will need to identify before every snap. He is a second team all-conference selection from last year and he loves to mix it up.
The Trojans will be successful if they show a commitment to the run and sustain it throughout the game. This will force Bucannon down into the box and open up passing lanes for Cody Kessler. Tune in to watch the Trojans take on conference foe Washington State Cougars at 7:30 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.