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Cougars' offense can get right vs. Southern Utah

By Jim Moore

If you're like me, you're still enjoying the Cougars' 10-7 win over USC last Saturday. Given how we've played in our last 63 games, winning only 13 times, you enjoy every victory.

But this one was special because we rarely win at USC – heck, we rarely beat USC in Pullman let alone Los Angeles. And the way we did it, with a suffocating, swarming defense that was smacking Trojans all over the place, time and again stopping them from crossing the yellow line on flat screens everywhere. I loved the swagger most of all. A Cougars defense with swagger, that was different. They looked like they believed in themselves for good reason.

Offensively, the Cougs struggled, continuing a trend that started in the second half of the Auburn loss. Quarterback Connor Halliday has turned it over six times in his first two games. He has made some bad throws and bad decisions, particularly in the red zone, preventing the Cougs from at least getting three points from Andrew Furney.

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Connor Halliday has one touchdown, six turnovers and a 59.2 percent completion rate over WSU's first two games. (AP)
I don't know what's going on with Halliday. As a redshirt junior, shouldn't he be better than that? Or do you cut him slack because it's only his second year in coach Mike Leach's system?

I still love the kid for three reasons:

1. He's a Coug.

2. He's a gunslinger, and I like that he's not afraid to go downfield and throw balls into tight windows. Why do I like that? I'm not sure, because you could argue that gunslingers aren't very smart sometimes and that it would be better for Halliday to be a game manager than a game blower.

3. He's cocky and brash, and I like that, too. I don't want a quarterback who's unsure of himself.

I'm guessing that Halliday must have a huge lead over backup quarterback Austin Apodaca or we would've seen a series or two with the freshman taking snaps. Hopefully Apodaca will get some playing time on Saturday against Southern Utah in the home opener. The Cougs are favored by 21.5 points.

To be honest, I wish we were playing BYU instead of Southern Utah. BYU was on the schedule, but the Cougs opted out for reasons that are unclear to me. I guess we wanted an easier opponent, but I think it would've been cooler to see BYU at Martin Stadium instead of Southern Utah, a school I'd never heard of until it appeared on the WSU schedule.

This may sound idiotic, but I'd rather see the Cougs lose a close game to a marquee opponent like BYU than blow out an inferior opponent like Southern Utah. Then again, didn't BYU rush for 550 yards against Texas last week? And didn't they crush us in the season opener last year?

Southern Utah could be surprisingly competitive. The Thunderbirds gave Cal all it wanted before losing 50-31 last year. They also beat Eastern Washington last year, and as I recall, the Cougs barely held off the Eagles in 2012.

But I would suspect that Washington State will easily defeat Southern Utah. It's an obvious spot for a letdown. Or maybe the Cougs will use this game to find their offense, and based on what we saw from the defense against USC, Southern Utah will struggle to score.

Should be a fun day on the Palouse.

Prediction: Cougs 41, Southern Utah 0.
Season record against the spread: 2-0.

Washington at Illinois

The Huskies are coming off a bye week after beating Boise State Aug. 31. It's been a long time since I've seen this much optimism and glee from Husky fans, all of whom are talking about a nine- or 10-win season.

They've forgotten that axiom about certainties in life: death, taxes and Coach Sark going 7-6.

Don't get me wrong, the Dawgs were impressive against Boise State. Keith Price was impressive. Coug traitor Bishop Sankey was impressive. The defense, too.

But let's see if they can do it on the road at Soldier Field. Illinois has a pass-happy offense that could pose problems. Let me rephrase that – I will certainly hope that it poses problems.

Expect a shootout and a shocker from the Fighting Illini.

Prediction: Illinois 38, Washington 35.
Season record against the spread: 0-1.

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