Jimmy Kimmel Bowl: Getting To Know Washington State
Who are the Cougars?
Fresno State plays a Pac-12 team
To get to know the Cougars better we reached out to Barry Bolton who covers Washington State for CougFan.com with 247Sports.
He provided some great insight this matchup and Washington State team.
1. Washington State hasn’t been immune to the true start of transfer portal season, but which one player do you consider to be the biggest departure and why? Who would you expect to step up into their place?
LB Francisco Mauigoa. He broke out this season in his second year and with two other linebackers out for the bowl game, WSU will be short-handed enough there it will slide a hard-hitting safety up to the box for rotational turns. Kyle Thornton is a solid ‘backer who will move to MIKE and Ben Wilson, a special teams mainstay will move to WILL in WSU’s 4-2-5. Freshman Hudson Cedarland has a bright future but has played sparingly his rookie season. Jordan Lee is the aforementioned safety and a good one.
2. The Cougars have one of the lowest run rates over expected figures in the country, which makes a lot of sense considering that Cameron Ward is at quarterback. In your opinion, though, what has or hasn’t worked about that pass-heavy offense through the fall?
Washington State on offense has started strong in nearly all of its games, speaking to the work done in practice. Cameron Ward can also make some amazing plays when he goes off script. Wazzu’s offense has bogged down in stretches, however. The inexperienced Cougar offensive line has struggled much of the year both in pass protection and run blocking. The wide receivers haven’t gotten open as much this season as in years past, and Ward at times has held onto the ball too long before taking off and throwing it away. You could also argue the Cougs should run the ball more than they have. Overall, it’s felt like WSU has had high potential, but it hasn’t always met that mark as often as expected.
3. It’s been something of a surprise that the Cougars have often been led by their defense this year. Who do you think Wazzu fans should have been talking about more and why?
The defensive tackles, such as Christian Mejia, Antonio Pule and Amir Mujahid haven’t been in the spotlight but they have had an outsized impact. Nickel Armani Marsh has also made some key plays but doesn’t get as many plaudits as he should. Safety Jaden Hicks is one to watch for; he’s on the rise. LB Daiyan Henley, who will sit out the bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft, has gotten notice as well he should,. But he was simply a revelation this year. His absence in the bowl will hurt.
4. How important has running back Nakia Watson been to the Washington State offense?
When Nakia Watson was out for a few weeks with an injury, the Cougs became one-dimensional and opposing teams could sit back and dare WSU to throw. What he brings to the table in terms of running, pass catching and pass blocking is the x-factor for the offense. You can make a strong argument Watson is the most important player on the Cougar offense and as evidence, point to the games he missed and the offense’s productivity with him in the backfield.
5. How do you see this game playing out?
On one hand, it’s a surprise WSU is favored by 4 given the Cougar players who won’t be suiting up, would have thought the line would have favored Fresno State by 4. On the other, WSU’s defense got hammered its last game out but I can see WSU giving Fresno State trouble up front. In a good battle, I see it coming down to who makes the final defensive stand. I’ll pick WSU to win 31-27.