Cougars Sneak By Near Upset
The Cougars received their first victory of the season last Saturday against the Eagles of Eastern Washington. The Cougars are now 1-1, and undefeated at the newly renovated Martin Stadium. Those are about the only positive statements possible after the game the Cougars came out with Saturday afternoon.
It is odd to be upset after a victory, but that is the feeling around Pullman. The heavily favored Cougars barely snuck by the Division II Eagles in a 24-20 victory.
The game showed, once again, that the Cougar offense is still in the midst of a learning process with Mike Leach‘s system.
And while the game was not pretty, there were some individual efforts that paid huge dividends in a victory that was much closer than anticipated.
The first name that jumps out at me was Darryl Monroe. The (rs) freshman from Orlando, Fla. was a one-man wrecking machine Saturday afternoon. Monroe was consistently bursting through gaps, getting to the quarterback and stopping the run.
Monroe arguably had the biggest off-season transition physically, putting on 20 lbs of mass due to an all-liquid diet.
I may have to take him up on that idea.
I also loved Isiah Myers‘ performance in the red zone. The sophomore receiver – out of Orlando as well – put on a clinic in the red zone, reeling in both of quarterback Jeff Tuel‘s touchdown passes.
Myers spent most of his freshman year on special teams, only recording 7 catches for 76 yards. He has burst onto the scene early in his second year with two touchdowns already, the second one looking like a Sportscenter Top 10-level grab.
Another guy you gotta love on the Cougars is big Andrew Furney. The junior out of Burlington-Edison High School has been quite the sensation at the kicker position.
Last season Furney posted a .875 field goal percentage – a WSU single-season record – and is on the Lou Groza Award watch list.
Furney added to his resume last Saturday by booting a 62-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. 62 yards. Send this guy to the league!
Finally, I would like to show some love for the support the fans brought. The addition of Leach and the $65 million stadium renovations might have been a LITTLE bit of encouragement for the fans to show up on Saturday, but nonetheless they did. And packed the stands.
September 8, 2012 was the first sold-out home opener in Martin Stadium in the last 50 years.
As a home-game attendee the past five years, I can say with certainty that I have never heard the fan base as loud as it was Saturday. In the past when the Cougars were struggling the scores would often be lopsided by half time.
Fans would leave, groaning and stumbling to the nearest bar, and the Cougars would come out the second half to nearly empty stands.
This was not the case against Eastern.
There was a moment in the third quarter when true freshman Teondray Caldwell fumbled on the goal line to put the Cougars out of reach.
This kind of turnover would have silenced the crowd, possibly sent people home, and the air would have been let out of the stadium.
Not this time. Ioane Gauta and Darryl Monroe instantly looked to the student section and clapped their hands above their heads, forming the signal for safety.
This created an uproar in Martin Stadium, with everyone joining in a newly revised “cougar chomp” with hands clapping over heads rather than out in front of their chests.
This kind of thunder storming the stadium late in the game was something I hadn’t heard since the 2008 Apple Cup.
For this to occur in a regular season game against Eastern Washington tells me that there is a new spirit in the Palouse.
Once again, Jeff Tuel makes the list. I am not sure if it is the complications of the offense, or the worry of injury – which is not very far fetched considering he left the game with a knee injury – but Tuel remains timid in the pocket.
He makes his reads, yet seems to second guess himself, and by the time his decision is made he is either sacked or throws a check down to the running back for a 3-yard gain.
The pressure is all over Tuel on a nation-wide basis thanks to the addition of Leach, so he very well may be overwhelmed. And with Leach’s complicated system, I don’t expect him to pick it up right of the bat and lead the nation in passing yards.
But to see (rs) sophomore Connor Halliday step in for the injured Tuel and begin zipping the ball to receivers with ease tells me one thing: the opportunities are there, and Tuel just is not taking advantage of them.
Another return to the list is the offensive line. Late in the game the Cougars had a fourth-quarter drive to put the Eagles out of reach. A screen pass from Halliday to Leon Brooks turned out being a 40+ yard touchdown play in which Brooks dazzled the defenders with fancy footwork to find the end zone.
The stands went wild, only to be silented by a yellow flag in the backfield.
“Holding, 10-yard penalty. Repeat first down.”
Soon afterwards, Halliday found Marquess Wilson across the middle. Wilson shed a tackler on the reception, high-stepped another and turned on the burners to beat out the remaining defensive backs for six.
The crowd went wild, and then saw the yellow laundry lying near the foot of Connor Halliday.
“Holding, 10-yard penalty. Repeat third down.”
These amazing plays that would close out the game and end the win on a high note were erased, all because of offensive lineman getting outplayed by FCS players and resorting to holds.
This cannot continue if the Cougars want to be competitive in the PAC 12.