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September 15, 2006Both the Cougs and the Baylor Bears are 1-1 coming into Saturday's game at Qwest Field in Seattle. Both teams are coming off wins after disappointing opening losses and both are hoping to build momentum going into the bulk of the season. The Cougars were able to hang tough with Auburn for three quarters before losing control of the game in the fourth, leading to a misleadingly lopsided score. Not a bad showing, all in all, considering the Cougs had to travel three time zones for the game and were severely banged up and depleted by injuries. Against Idaho, the Cougs were a little more healed up and the game looked to be a tough one as Idaho had just given Michigan State a scare. The Cougs shook off any hangover from Auburn and positively beat the bejabbers out of Idaho, getting all the deep bench players into the game in the fourth quarter in a game as one-sided as the score indicated.
Baylor is a team working on making it back to respectability after struggling for several years. A win against WSU in Seattle would be huge for Baylor and the Bears will believe they can pull it off. Baylor isn't likely to underestimate WSU, but it is likely that Baylor will dismiss the Idaho win as coming against a weak team and look more towards the Auburn score (not game, score) as an indication that the Cougars are vulnerable. Alex Brink called Qwest Field a "home away from home" for WSU earlier in the week, and the Cougars will want to exploit that home away from home field advantage on Saturday to be rude hosts and send the Bears on a long and silent trip home to Texas. Here's our CougZone Keys to the Game:
1) Pass protection: Baylor is likely to present five defensive backs to the Cougar offense - emphasizing coverage with the goal of allowing their front six to break through and put pressure on Brink. The thinking is if the Bears mess up the Cougar passing attack and limit or nullify the dangerous Cougar receiving corps, the Baylor defense can handle the Cougar running game and contain the Cougar offense. The Cougar line is coming off a very sharp game against Idaho and did reasonably well against a top notch Auburn front the week before. WSU needs to protect Brink from the Baylor pressure. If Brink has time to set up and get comfortable, the Cougar receivers will find room to get open and hurt the Bears.
2) Pass rush: The Cougar D-line and secondary are still somewhat banged up, with cornerbacks Don Turner and Markus Dawes expected out for the second consecutive game. The good news is Tyron Brackenridge looked great against Idaho and Brian Williams played well in his first Cougar start. The Cougar safeties looked good, so with the secondary clicking they should be able to at least play even up with the Bears' receivers. That leaves a lot up to the D-line. The Cougar line failed to get a sack against Idaho until well after the game was decided and missed a number of opportunities to make big plays. Baylor is going to try to throw the ball around. If the Cougar defensive front can penetrate and mess up the Baylor pocket, the Cougar secondary should be able to handle whatever does end up thrown to the Bears' receivers.
3) Kicking: Two games into the season, the Cougar kicking game is still cause for worry. Not the punting game - Darryl Blunt and the coverage teams look great. No, the worries are placekicking. Loren Langley is still struggling. His PAT attempts have been perfect, but his kickoffs have fallen short of the endzone allowing return opportunities and he missed two very makeable field goals against Idaho. The Cougars are not used to playing Baylor and with an unfamiliar opponent strange things can happen. Though favored by two touchdowns, this is a potentially quirky game that could hinge on kicking. WSU needs production and points when field goal opportunities are there.