Thursday, December 19, 2002
Cougars at a disadvantage
By Gary Danielson
Special to ABC Sports Online
Mike Price's decision to go to Alabama has to affect Washington State in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Playstation2. It's going to be a distraction.
The players are usually happy when an assistant coach takes over, like what happened at Miami when Larry Coker replaced Butch Davis, or when Michigan stuck with Lloyd Carr. But it doesn't always work out when assistants are promoted to head jobs. Look what happened with Bobby Williams at Michigan State. So there is a lot of trepidation there.
A coaching change is a built in excuse for a team. Football is hard. If things aren't going well against Oklahoma, there's going to be a tendency for some players to go, "Coach moved, so that's why we're not playing well." It gives you kind of an out. You really have to fight that negative thought process during a game. At some point, they are going to face a point when things aren't going well and they will look to their leadership to help in those situations. They could have some problems with that.
It could flow the other way too. The players could get so mad at Price that they get fired up and they want to show everybody that they are the reason that this team is doing so well and not the coach. It's the last game of a great season, so they may remain focused.
Jason Gesser's leadership is second to none in the country. He's a three-time captain. It's not just his leadership. It's impossible to lead if you are not a good player. People have to watch you make plays, play hurt, say the right things to the media, say the right things to the coaches. Everybody looks at that. Jason's done that for three years. He's an unquestioned leader.
The Cougars will need him to be as close to 100 percent as possible to handle this defense, and they will need him to be on top of his game mentally. There can't be any distractions if you want a chance to beat Oklahoma.
Washington State runs well enough defensively that it can play with the Sooners, but the Cougars won't be able to play with them if they don't move the ball on offense. Colorado wore down against Oklahoma because its offense couldn't move the ball. Washington State needs its offense to well for its defense to do well. If the Cougars can't move the ball on offense, they will eventually run out of gas on defense.
When Washington State has the ball:
|Jason Gesser needs to be at his best to lead the Cougars past the Sooners.|
The Cougars should have a simple offensive game plan. Oklahoma does not like to get out of its base defense. The Sooners want to play things in front of them, where their linebackers are fast enough and their front four is good. For the Cougars to have a chance, they must force Oklahoma to stop their run game as well as their pass game. If Oklahoma only has to zero in on their pass game, like they did against Texas Tech, they will eat them up. You have to be very disciplined, and even though you like to throw the ball 50 times, you must only throw the ball between 30 and 40 times and run the ball enough to keep them guessing.
When Oklahoma played Texas, the Longhorns tried to be one-dimensional running the ball, and they ate that up. Same with Colorado. The teams that were able to have success against Oklahoma's defense have been able to keep them off-balance with either the play-action pass or stay very balanced. You need to keep them guessing by making them think you are going to run an iso, a sweep, a screen, a bootleg pass. You can't let them zero in on what you are doing.
The Sooners understand that Gesser is good, but if Oklahoma makes Washington State one-dimensional, they believe that with their speed at linebacker and their different kinds of zones, that they will make a play and beat him.
When Oklahoma has the ball:
Defensively, Washington State is very underrated. The Cougars have a lot of skilled athletes. They should match up pretty well in the secondary, and they have to force the play back to Nate Hybl. If Quentin Griffin carries the ball and gains 200 yards, they can beat the Miami Hurricanes.
Oklahoma's offensive line has gotten more physical, but I still believe that in that spread offense, there are some people that need to be defeated. You can't allow their undersized tight end Trent Smith to block you. You have to defeat that matchup. If you let their undersized guys beat you up front, then you have to commit other guys up front and eventually one of their skilled receivers will catch an easy touchdown pass.
Oklahoma also has a chance on its return game or block game to score a touchdown. Special teams is an area, with a coach leaving, that sometimes gets left hanging in the wing. Coaches are doing different things and people are trying to make an impression on the new coach to get more playing time that it can be overlooked. That could be devastating. The Sooners have a gamebreaker in Antonio Perkins.