Cougs Take Major Strides in Defeat
Coming off the first bye-week of Mike Leach’s WSU career, it was interesting to see how the team would fair in terms of adjustments and game play. The result was a vast improvement in offense fluidity, an empowered rush defense, and route-running efficiency by the receiving corp.
Unfortunately these improvements were not quite enough to overcome the the heavily favored Stanford, and the Cougars fell short 24-17.
A few major mistakes, such as Jeff Tuel‘s crucial interception to Stanford safety Ed Reynolds that was returned for a touchdown – or the controversial pass-interference call on third down that led to a field goal – really changed the game in the second half.
Nevertheless, there was a lot to love about the Cougars’ performance.
I loved Jeff Tuel‘s decision making on Saturday.
Tuel came into this season as the starter because of his experience, accuracy, athletic ability and decision making. Before the Stanford game he had yet to show any of these traits he previously showcased. Saturday was a different story.
No longer was Tuel timid in the pocket. He was making quick, accurate throws to receivers when they were open. He was tucking the ball and running for first downs – including a huge 4th-down conversion – and showed a clear comfort level with the offensive scheme.
It was obvious the bye-week helped Tuel out the most. He looked like the quarterback we all expected him to be. It is unfortunate it took this long to grasp the offense, but hey, that’s Leach for ya.
WSU had their hands full in this match up, facing the Pac-12’s 3rd-leading rusher.
The Cougar defense enforced their will on the Cardinal rushing attack, and held Taylor to a season-low 58 yards on 21 carries. Defensive-coordinator Mike Breske made Taylor his point of emphasis, and the defense reacted accordingly.
Ioane Gauta, Darryl Monroe, and Justin Sagote all were flying to the line of scrimmage and hitting the ball carrier before he could get up field. Meanwhile Deone Bucannon was once again flying around the field, picking up the scraps. He ended the day with 10 total tackles, his fifth double-digit tackle performance of the season.
This was something we have not seen from the Cougars all season. A defensive toughness. It was a sight for sore eyes, and kept the Cougars in contention the entire game.
Week after week Leach would criticize the Cougars’ receiving corp, insisting they were not finishing routes and their timing was off. This was another issue well-adjusted over the week off.
The ball-dispersion was greatly balanced by Jeff Tuel – five receivers had at least six receptions and Marquess Wilson led the pack with nine.
The offense finally looked like a Leach-ran system, consisting of several short-to-medium passing gains. These intermediate plays allowed single-coverage and led to big plays, including a 4th-and-21 yard conversion to Bobby Ratliff on the final drive.
Wide-receiver Marquess Wilson was having issues throughout the season with a case of the drops. While this shouldn’t be a major issue considering the depth the Cougars have at the position, the output from your standout player is always going to be under the spotlight.
Wilson looked fluent and showed excellent route-running while catching every ball with his strong hands. A sigh of relief from the fan base.
The one group that didn’t make an improvement over the bye-week was the offensive line. They actually looked like they digressed.
The punishment might not fit the crime, however, considering they were facing one of the nation’s top front-seven in Stanford. Nevertheless, the Cougar offensive line has been terrible all season long, and they were no match for Stanford on Saturday, giving up a school-record 10 sacks – including the sack to end the game.
Tuel’s time in the pocket was brief at best – and if it weren’t for his quick decision making – the game would have been a landslide defeat.
They could not protect their quarterback, and could an inch in the trenches, resulting in a whopping -16 yards rushing as a team.
This outing was pathetic, and luckily Leach has an abundance of offensive-line recruits coming in.
The Cougars had just scored a touchdown on a beautiful fade-route to Dominique Williams and took the lead 7-3. The defense was looking stingy, the offense was clicking, and the momentum was in the Cougs’ favor. Then Tyree Toomer stepped on the field.
The safety position opposite of Bucannon has fluctuated all season. Whether it has been Toomer, Casey Locker, or true-freshman Taylor Taliulu, neither has been able to hold the position down. Toomer may just be the worst, and for some reason was in for the drive following the touchdown.
On the second play of the ensuing drive, Toomer got caught staring at the quarterback while Cardinal Jamal-Rashad Patterson blew right behind him for a 70-yard touchdown.
It appeared that Toomer anticipated help over top, but there was no player there and it was a clear miscommunication that likely puts the senior safety at fault.
Other than the scoreboard, the Cougars dominated the game in yards (385-256) and time of possession (33:36-26:24), but because of lack of protection – and this big play – they fell short.
Fortunately there is silver lining in the loss. It is obvious the training-wheels are off for this Cougar offense, and if they can continue to improve we could see a few more victories in the winnable games upcoming on the schedule.