Wazzu's offense and defense are missing their best players in Marquess Wilson and Travis Long, respectively. Might it fall on Washington State's special teams players like kick returner Teondray Caldwell, pictured above, to provide a spark that could win them the Apple Cup for the first time since 2008?
Place Kicking: Andrew Furney is a pedestrian 11 for 17 on field goals this year, but he's better than those numbers indicate, as his kick protection has been less than adequate -- two of his six "misses," for example, were blocks by UCLA. When he's had time to actually get the ball into the air, he's been reliable, having hit two 40-plus yard attempts against BYU and a 60-yard shot at Martin Stadium against Eastern Washington, the latter being the longest ever made in Pullman as well as tying the second-longest field goal in conference history. If and when the Cougars make it into the black zone, he can usually be relied upon as someone with the ability to tack on three points.
Kickoffs: Junior college transfer Michael Bowlin has been quite the boon for WSU as a kickoff specialist, owning the conference's third-best average distance even when factoring the Cougars' three onside kicks this year into the equation. Unfortunately, WSU's kickoff coverage team hasn't lived up to the same standard of excellence, allowing nearly 22 yards per return to rate third-worst in the conference. They do seem to be fairly good at limiting big plays in the return game, however, having allowed just three instances in which opponents took the ball 30 yards or more (though one of returns was Utah's Reggie Dunn taking it back 100 yards for a score).
Punts: Bowlin also handles punting responsibilities for the Cougars, ranking sixth in the conference with an average distance of 41.9 yards per attempt. The team does a fairly good job of limiting returns on those punts, too, giving up just over 7 yards per return and allowing just one return of 20 yards or more. WSU's chances to come away Friday with a win will be heavily influenced by their ability to win the battle of field position, and their punt team will have to continue to play at a high level to give the offense a fighting chance.
Kickoff Returns: True freshman tailback Teondray Caldwell is WSU's primary kickoff returner, and his impressive return average of 25.3 yards per attempt ranks fourth in the conference. He's also shown himself to be a home run threat, having taken a kick 92 yards against Oregon earlier in the year before he was tackled six yards away from paydirt.
Punt Returns: Though he is listed atop Washington State's depth chart, Brett Bartolone has returned just three punts this year for a total of 11 yards, opting instead to fair-catch the rest. Backup returner Leon Brooks has seen further success than him, averaging 10.6 yards per return on seven punts this year. Considering that Travis Coons has a conference-worst average of just 38.6 yards per punt, it's likely that all of Washington's punts will be fair-caught, and that this phase of the game will be a total non-factor in terms of the Coug's return game.
As always, thanks to College Football Statistics, ESPN and College Injury Report for the relevant data that went into this article. You can follow me on Twitter by clicking below.
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