Two-minute drill: Keys to victory for No. 20 Washington State against Houston

By Theo Lawson

The Spokesman-Review

Don’t take your eyes off …

How will the Cougars, that is, the Washington State Cougars, use their inside linebackers? Or, a more pressing question: What inside linebackers will Tracy Claeys and WSU have to use? Backup “Mike” linebacker Dillon Sherman left the Northern Colorado game with an injury and rotational backer Dominick Silvels didn’t play in his second straight game as he continues to work through what Mike Leach has labeled “personal issues.” Will Sherman be cleared? Will Silvels return? Or will the Cougars have to survive without both and rely heavily on Travion Brown, which may not be the worst option considering how reliable the true freshman’s been through his first two college games.

When WSU has the ball …

NRG Stadium is either an ideal setting for Leach’s high-volume passing offense or THE ideal setting for Leach’s high-volume passing offense. “We’re the Air Raid, so we don’t love weather,” running back Max Borghi said. “When we know it’s not going to dump rain or snow on us, it’s a good thing and I think just playing in a dome’s pretty cool.” The Cougars have played underneath a roof one other time in the Leach/Air Raid era at WSU — last December when Gardner Minshew completed 35 of 49 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns in the Alamo Bowl. The enclosed setting may not lead to a WSU win, but at the very least it should allow the Cougars to operate on offense without having to worry about outside elements.

When Houston has the ball …

Outside of the major conferences, there may not be a quarterback better equipped to hurt the Cougars than Houston’s D’Eriq King. He’ll get a lot of the attention, but King’s playmakers are also worth highlighting. When the dual-threat QB looks to throw, or extend the play after breaking out of the pocket, he’ll be scanning for one of two receivers: junior Marquez Stevenson or senior Keith Corbin. Neither will be a matchup problem with their size, but both are quick and shifty players who can make you pay after the catch. Last season, Stevenson led the team with 75 receptions, 1,019 yards and nine touchdowns, while Corbin had 40 catches for 691 yards and 10 TDs. Both could pose threats for an inexperienced WSU secondary.

Did you know?

There’s been much made of the relationship between the two men coaching this game, but how about the player who’s spent time with both? Washington State nose tackle Lamonte McDougle signed with Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia out of Deerfield Beach High in Florida, and stood out for the Mountaineers in 2017, earning ESPN Freshman All-American honors. When he sought out a change of scenery, McDougle found the Cougars and Leach, who coached the player’s father, Stockar, almost two decades earlier at Oklahoma. McDougle saw more field time for WSU last week against Northern Colorado and the 6-foot, 291-pound D-lineman could play a pivotal role in limiting Houston and the coach who originally signed him.