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Washington State-Wyoming preview: Can Leach lead Cougars to second win?

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Washington State appears to have moved on from its opening day loss to Portland State after beating Rutgers 37-34. But can the Cougars move to a 2-1 record this Saturday when they take on Wyoming?

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

After a humiliating loss to lowly Portland State in their season opener, the Cougars partially redeemed themselves in the eyes of many fans by beating Big Ten foe Rutgers. The game was a wild 37-34 contest with WSU winning on a last minute touchdown by quarterback Luke Falk.

The offense that sputtered against Portland State was magnificent against Rutgers. The Cougars finished with 559 yards, including 478 yards passing by Falk. The Cougar defense played well, controlling the Rutgers offense and racking up three turnovers. This game would have been an easy Cougar win if not for two kick returns for touchdowns by Rutgers. Washington State kicker Eric Powell did hit on field goals of 47, 46, and 37 yards, so maybe the Cougars are getting some of their special teams problems fixed. More special teams work is needed, but the improved field goal kicking is a positive sign.

While the Cougars aren't under as much pressure to win as last week, this is still a very important game. Washington State coach Mike Leach has been under fan pressure since the PSU loss, and winning at home is important to keep the fans interested and coming to games. A win in this game is a must if Leach wants to get to a bowl game, as wins in the Pac-12 are going to be hard to come by.

Wyoming enters the game 0-2, and like the Cougars started the season with a loss to a FCS team they should have easily beaten. Following that 24-13 loss to North Dakota, the Cowboys lost 48-29 to Eastern Michigan. This is a must-win game for Wyoming if they want to salvage their season.

The Opponent:

Wyoming travels to Pullman knowing they have been playing poorly. Instead of being 2-0 and facing a near-certain loss to a Pac-12 team, they are winless and looking at a 0-3 record. Wyoming should be 2-0 but instead they choked against two teams they should have beaten. Add to that both games were played at home in front of their fans. This team is struggling to gain its identity and find a win. It's probably not going to happen against Washington State.

The Strategy:

Offensively the Cougars should dominate this game. Leach doesn't vary his offense much, and shouldn't need to against Wyoming. If the Cougars execute crisply they will easily score 50 points in this game. The Cowboys have given up 429 yards to North Dakota and 506 yards to Eastern Michigan so their defense needs work and the Cougars should score at will. Falk and the receivers will need to be sharp, but if they are the Cougars will march up and down the field.

The Cougar defense will need to be prepared for most anything against the Cowboys. If there ever was a mystery offense it is Wyoming. They had 301 yards passing and only 29 yards rushing against North Dakota, and then 430 rushing and only 32 passing in their next game against Eastern Michigan. Most of that difference was caused by losing senior quarterback Cameron Coffman, who didn't play against Eastern Michigan. That led to Brian Hill rushing for 242 yards on 21 carries against Eastern Michigan. Hill is a good runner, and had 281 yards rushing last year against Fresno State.

Coffman is starting this week against the Cougars and combined with Hill the Cowboys should have a varied offense that the Cougar defense may have problems with. They must cover their gaps and not give Hill any running lanes. The Cougar secondary must also provide good pass coverage downfield to keep Coffman from picking them apart. Finally the Cougar line must get pressure on Coffman against a smaller Cowboy offensive line. The Cowboys are starting true freshman tackle Zach Wallace, who at only 265 pounds should be a target for the Cougars to pick on.

Special teams remain the problem for the Cougars. Last week Powell was the star for making three field goals, but the Cougars still face problems. Last week Rutgers returned two kicks for touchdowns and the Cougar kick and punt returners looked absolutely lost. Leach needs to get these problems cleared up quickly.

Look for the Cowboys to mix things up on offense, with misdirection runs to get the Cougar defense out of their lanes and gaps. Coffman will also take some deep passes to attempt to take advantage of the young Cougar defensive backs. If they can get the Cougars to miss some tackles and get out of their lanes, expect some good runs from Hill.

Defensively the Cowboys are going to have a long day. They will attempt to pressure Falk, but the Cougar offensive line should be able to control the line of scrimmage. They will need to have very good coverage on the Cougar receivers if they expect to have any chance. Their best strategy will be to have a bend but don't break game plan and hope the Cougars can't make field goals. Wyoming's best shot to win this game is on special teams, and expect some trick plays to confuse the Cougars on kicks and punts.

Key to the Game:

Simply put, the Air Raid must roll. The Cougar offense should be able to easily score 50+ points if Falk and the receivers are on the same page in this game. If the offense doesn't march up and down the field and put up a lot of points, it will be a long day for the Cougars.

Players to Watch:

On the Wyoming side, quarterback Cameron Coffman and running back Brian Hill. Cougar players to watch are Luke Falk, his receivers and the defensive line.

The Final:

Cougars send the Cowboys home 0-3 in a blowout.