Washington State may not be the same team across the board as it's been during its three consecutive 10-win seasons, but when it comes to holding opponents from gaining yards and keeping teams out of the end zone, it's been business and usual.
WSU (2-1, 0-0 Pac-10) enters its Pacific 10 Conference opener with the Wildcats Saturday at 12:30 p.m. with the No. 17 defense in Division IA football.
"They really get after it," said UA senior tight end Steve Fleming. "They really have no gigantic guys like we've seen the last two weeks, but they're relentless. They blitz a lot and try to make things happen."
The Cougars are allowing just 15 points and 272 yards a contest through their first three games.
A big reason for Washington State's success is its defense's ability to create turnovers. The Cougars have forced 11 thus far, including six fumbles (three of which were recovered) by Idaho a week ago in the Cougars' 49-8 victory.
Arguably the most impressive performance of the Cougars' defense so far, however was in the team's only loss - a 20-12 defeat at the hands of Colorado - caused by the team's inability to move the ball on offense for much of the game.
WASHINGTON STATE (2-1)
Team Nickname: Cougars
WSU allowed just 125 total yards to the Buffs and kept them under 100 passing yards and 50 rushing yards.
Smack dab in the middle of WSU's defensive unit is junior linebacker Will Derting. Derting is coming off an All Pac-10 season a year ago in which he recorded 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for a loss on his way to two Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Week awards.
"He definitely stands out," Fleming said. "He's not a physical specimen or anything, but he's a veteran and the captain of their defense."
Through three games, Derting leads the Cougars in tackles with 22.
Arizona head coach Mike Stoops said Derting was your prototypical middle linebacker. Stoops said he was big, strong, fast and just had a nose for the football.
Even though the defense has put up the more impressive numbers, it's the Cougars' offense that has received much of the attention.
In the team's loss to Colorado, freshman quarterback Alex Brink spelled struggling starter Josh Swogger and outplayed the second year player, sparking a bona fide quarterback controversy.
Swogger started and shined in WSU's last game against Idaho, but was injured midway through the third quarter. Swogger threw for four touchdowns in the Cougars' second win of the year, but a partially torn ligament in his right knee leaves him questionable for tomorrow's game.
Washington State head coach Bill Doba said earlier this week that depending on how the knee responds to practice conditions will determine the sophomore's status for the weekend's contest.
"We'll wait and see how Josh feels at practice," Doba told The Associated Press. "We'll probably have to wait to see how he warms up."
If Swogger can't play, the team would most likely go back to Brink, which would have little effect on the Wildcats' game plan, Stoops said.
He said both quarterbacks are fairly similar and both run the same style offense; the only thing that changes is the experience between the two.
Junior Darrell Brooks said it would be important for the Arizona defense to come ready to play no matter who's behind center for the Cougars.
"(Brink's) a good player or else he wouldn't be there," he said. "All quarterbacks at Wazzu go there for a reason, so they can throw it."
Washington State has produced several NFL-caliber quarterbacks in the program's history, most notably Drew Bledsoe of the Buffalo Bills.