Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Josh Yuen, football beat writer for The Daily Californian, and Sam Grant, football beat writer for the Daily Evergreen. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Josh Yuen: The narrative around this Washington State team focuses on (quarterback) Anthony Gordon and the offense. To you, what’s the biggest storyline from this team so far this season?
Sam Grant: Honestly, I’d say it’s the defense and the resigning of our defensive coordinator, Tracy Claeys. It’s really affected the team in a way that I don’t think anyone has really expected. Despite our record after his resignation, it kind of sparked a little bit of fire in the team I feel like. So the transition between the first half of the season to the point we’re at now, I feel like (the defense) is playing a lot better and honestly, I feel like it’s a different team than what we started out with.
JY: The Cougars have had a lot of great quarterbacks under Mike Leach. What makes Gordon stand out in particular?
SG: His quick release. That is definitely the skill aspect of it. But the fact that he’s been on the team for so long, he’s really built up a lot of chemistry, unlike with Gardner Minshew last year who was here for just a year. Despite their charismatic abilities, I think that Anthony Gordon just being there for so long has built up a lot of chemistry with a lot of his teammates.
JY: Gordon’s got a lot of other playmakers on that side of the ball. Who’s the most valuable during crunchtime situations? Is it (running back) Max Borghi? Or maybe (receiver) Easop Winston Jr.? Is it variable week-to-week?
SG: Honestly, it’s pretty variable. Going on how many playmakers they have had (at) wide receiver and running back, the core is just happy to see whoever is succeeding, succeed. They’re not very greedy about who gets the ball. Easop Winston Jr. is typically the go-to receiver for big plays like that, but it varies. (Receiver) Dezmon Patmon gets a lot of good touches and (receiver) Tay Martin had a great game last week as well. So it just depends on who’s ready to go each week and that can often mean a lot of different players.
JY: What have been the biggest strengths and weaknesses on the other side of the ball (defense)?
SG: The secondary has definitely been a struggle. Lots of deep passes given up and I feel like other than that, they’re defensive run-game is pretty solid. Their line has been pretty good at getting pressure on the quarterback, but it’s just that the secondary is having a little trouble getting through and getting coverage on the receivers.
JY: What’s the most crucial thing Washington State needs to execute in order to escape Berkeley with its fifth win of the season?
SG: I think just to make sure they’re all on the same page throughout the entire game. That’s definitely something that they’ve struggled with in weeks past. If they can get that down, I think that they should be able to secure a big “W” here. Like I said, that secondary in the defense has been a little bit lacking, so there’s going to be a lot of pressure on them, but other than that, if everybody else goes out and does what they’ve been doing week in and week out, it should go smoothly.
JY: Where do you expect the Cougars to end up recordwise at the end of the season?
SG: 6-6 is probably about what they’ll end up at. They’ve got a couple of tough games still ahead of them, Cal I’ll definitely include in that group. UW, of course, is always a struggle, especially this year playing in Seattle. I think this team has a little bit to figure out. I know that Anthony Gordon being a senior doesn’t exactly have it go the way you’d expect it to go with a quarterback that’s been there for so long, but I think they definitely have some regrouping to do for next year and they got to learn some key lessons this year. 6-6 is definitely what I see them around.
JY: Do you have a score prediction for Saturday or a general inkling of how the game is going to go?
SG: I feel like it will be a good defensive battle. Given a bye week with that secondary defense, I feel like they might be able to get a good week in for practice and just be able to have a good game. Definitely a low-scoring game — I’m predicting probably below 20 points for each team, and honestly, it could go either way.