The 2016 football season is off to a rocky start for Idaho and Washington State as they face off Saturday in Pullman in the 91st Battle of the Palouse.
The Cougars come into the game with a 0-2 record following two hard losses. The first loss came in their home opener against FCS opponent Eastern Washington Sept. 3 and the second against Boise State Sept. 10 on the road.
This is the second Pac-12 team Idaho has played in two weeks, after losing to Washington 59-14 in Seattle Sept. 10.
Although Idaho showed signs of strength in previous games, Washington State will take the win Saturday. A key factor will be the offense. The Cougar offense is No. 5 in the Pac-12, with the second best passing offense in the conference. This strong offensive team is led by Cougar quarterback Luke Falk, who averaged 78 percent pass completion and scored eight touchdowns.
Adding to Falk’s success is wide receiver Gabe Marks, who has three touchdowns this season and running back Jamal Morrow with one touchdown and 67 rushing yards.
While two losses looks bad, the strength of their opponents is not to be underestimated. Eastern Washington has the No. 1 ranked total offense in the Big Sky conference, a tough match for the Cougars and their No. 11 defense in the Pac-12.
Defense was a point of weakness against Boise State as well. The Broncos are averaging 38 points per game. With a weak defense pitted against a strong offense, Washington State fought hard to just fall short in the end.
However, when faced with an opponent with weak and unprepared defense, Washington State will be able to pull out the victory.
Idaho’s offense pales in comparison to that of the Cougars. Idaho struggled against Washington to find consistency in the offense, playing three different quarterbacks. Junior quarterback Matt Linehan started for the Vandals but was switched out with redshirt freshman quarterback Gunnar Amos and freshman quarterback Mason Petrino. Between the three, Idaho managed one touchdown and two interceptions against the strong Washington defense.
Washington State ended the 2015 season with a strong win against Miami in the Hyundai Sun Bowl and finished 9-4. The 2016 season has potential to be a strong year for the Cougars. Despite starting with a 0-2 record, Washington State will head into this game with more determination to over power and get a win against Idaho.
The Cougars are one of two Pac-12 teams starting the season as losers. But they will have the home field advantage at Martin Stadium in Pullman.
This advantage will allow them to take the victory over the Vandals and finally claim a victory.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org