BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
Who: Washington State (3-9 in 2012) at Auburn (3-9 in 2012)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.
Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)
When last they met: The only previous meeting between these two teams also came in a season opener, with Auburn hosting Washington State at Jordan-Hare Stadium seven years ago — Sept. 2, 2006, to be exact. Times were much different then, especially for the Tigers, who began that season ranked No. 4 in the country. Then they went out and proved why they had earned that high ranking against the Cougars. Auburn got off to a slow start, trailing 7-6 at the end of the first stanza. The Tigers found their groove in the final three quarters, brushing the Cougars away to take a 40-14 victory. Auburn won the game on the ground, rushing for 293 yards, highlighted by Kenny Irons’ 20-carry, 183-yard performance, which included one touchdown. His backup, Brad Lester, had a pair of scores himself, one each rushing and receiving. Auburn’s defense did its job as well, effectively shutting down Washington State quarterback Alex Brink. Brink had thrown for nearly 2,900 yards in 2005. Against the Tigers, however, he totaled only 67, with one touchdown and one interception.
Quick facts on Washington State: The Cougars haven’t had a winning record or been to a bowl since 2003. That year, they went 10-3 and topped the Texas Longhorns 28-20 in the Holiday Bowl. … Connor Halliday is the team’s leading returning passer, throwing for 1,874 yards and 15 touchdowns last season despite splitting starting duties with senior Jeff Tuel. Senior safety Deone Bucannon is back to lead the defense after tallying a team-high 106 tackles last year. … Since that 2006 loss to Auburn, Washington State is 1-5 in season openers. The Cougars’ sole win came against Idaho State two years ago, while they fell to Wisconsin (2007), Oklahoma State (2008 and 2010), Stanford (2009) and BYU (2012). … Despite spending two years in the Southeastern Conference many years ago, Washington State coach Mike Leach has never faced Auburn. In 1997 and 1998, he served as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, directing a unit that passed for more than 4,000 yards both seasons and set six NCAA and 41 SEC records along the way.
Which Tiger is primed for a big performance: Quarterback Nick Marshall could have his opportunity to make a statement in his first career game at Auburn. Aside from Buccannon, Washington State’s secondary is one of the shakiest units on the team. Marshall threw for 3,142 yards last season, but also tossed 20 interceptions. Coaches have said he hasn’t had a problem with turnovers during fall camp. Now we’ll see if he can do the same on the big stage.
Which Cougar could give the home team fits: Given how many times the Tigers are expected to run the ball, look for starting middle linebacker Darryl Monroe to be on the other end of many collisions. The third-year sophomore is already one of the leaders of the Cougars’ defense, starting all 12 games last season and collecting 80 tackles, including 8.5 for loss. He accounted for seven-plus tackles six different times last season, with a career-best 10 in a win against UNLV.
Extra point: Leach isn’t used to losing. Then came last season. Prior to Washington State’s 3-9 showing, the mercurial pirate-loving coach had never finished under .500 or coached a team that missed out on the postseason. In 10 seasons (2000-09) at Texas Tech, Leach compiled a record of 84-43.