The Cougars (1-0) had enough questions on both sides of the ball before the season for it to appear that they would struggle in the Pac-12 North. A resounding 41-19 win over Wyoming answered some of those concerns. Washington State surged to life on offense in the second half and shut down the Cowboys after halftime.
The Spartans (0-1) are not expected to offer much resistance to the Cougars' aerial attack. San Jose State surrendered 446 passing yards in a 44-38 loss to FCS opponent UC Davis. Only SMU and Ohio allowed more passing yards in week one.
Washington State holds a 7-4-1 lead in the all-time series. This is the first game in more than two decades between the two schools. The Cougars drilled San Jose State 52-16 when the two teams last met in 1996.
San Jose State at Washington State
Kickoff: Saturday Sept. 8, at 11 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Network
Spread: Washington State -35
Three Things to Watch
1. Washington State's offensive line taking steps forward
Zero sacks. Thirty (30) FBS teams did not surrender a sack in their opening game. The fact that Washington State is included in that number is an impressive feat after the quarterback protection issues the offensive line endured all of last season.
The Cougars totaled 394 yards on offense and did not give up a sack against a tough Wyoming defense. Their ability to protect Gardner Minshew paid huge dividends in the second half. After the Cowboys took a 19-13 lead, Washington State scored touchdowns on four of its final five drives of the game. The Cougars had scoring drives of 75, 48, 54 and 62 yards.
It came against a Wyoming team that produced four sacks and held New Mexico State to 135 yards of total offense only a week earlier. It's only one game but, clearly, Washington State has made some major strides in pass protection after finishing last among Pac-12 teams in sacks allowed last season.
2. Can San Jose State fix its defense?
Surrendering bunches of points and yards to virtually every opponent became a trademark for San Jose State last season. The Spartans aren't inspiring confidence that the story will be much different this fall.
UC Davis, an FCS team, piled up 589 total yards en route to a 44-38 win over San Jose State in the Spartans' season opener. Getting stops has been a challenge throughout the Brent Brennan era. The Aggies became the 10th opponent in San Jose State's last 14 games to score at least 40 points. UC Davis had accumulated 35 points and more than 400 yards of offense by halftime. The Aggies finished with 589 total yards.
Offensive ineptitude made it tough for San Jose State to keep up on the scoreboard. The Spartans got very little production from starting quarterback Josh Love and he was benched at halftime. Montel Aaron did a respectable job of quarterbacking in the second half. Aaron threw for 254 yards on 13-for-19 passing after halftime and made a solid argument to take over the starting job full time.
3. Will the Cougars keep their defensive momentum going?
Defensive play against Wyoming exceeded what had been expected from Washington State heading into the season. The Cougars scored 28 unanswered second-half points to pull away from the Cowboys mainly because their defense stymied Wyoming's offense down the stretch.
Inexperience didn't play as big of a role on that side of the ball for Washington State as originally expected. The Cougars had four defensive players make their first career starts in week one. They all had strong debuts atop the depth chart.
Skyler Thomas made nine tackles at free safety while linebacker Dominick Silvels chipped in six more. Nose tackle Taylor Comfort fared well on the line, recording three tackles and half of a sack. They'll all get a chance to make more noise this week against an average San Jose State offense.
San Jose State is on track to be one of the worst teams in the nation again, thanks to a porous pass defense. That's music to the ears of the Washington State players and coaches. The Cougars thrive on torching opponents with a non-stop aerial attack. Don't be surprised to see Washington State put up video game-like numbers while beating a Mountain West opponent for the second straight week.
Prediction: Washington State 48, San Jose State 24
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of wsucougars.com)