Escaping with victory, once again
It was 35-20 with 1:51 left in the game. Everything was rolling smoothly for the Washington State Cougars against the UNLV Rebels. Except for one thing — well multiple things, but one thing in particular.
They were in Vegas and many people had a lot of money on the Cougars.
The Rebels were on the Cougars’ 4-yard line when Nick Sherry dropped back to pass on first-and-goal, only to find his tight end Jake Phillips in the back of the end zone to narrow the score to 35-27 and crush any hope at WSU covering the 8.5 point spread.
Mike Leach did his best at the end of the game to save the the Cougars brethren — who decided to so kindly travel to such a boring place as Vegas for the game — with some questionable passes and time management in order to put a few more points on the board. Ultimately he failed to do so but the Cougars won. Although the majority of their fans lost.
(FYI: never bet on the Cougars).
UNLV is a very bad football team. WSU, to be frankly honest, isn’t much better right now. There were multiple times during this football game that the Cougars could have taken advantage of an extremely deficient Rebels defense and Connor Halliday would bail them out with an errant interception or the defense would fall flat on their face.
All in all, the Washington State Cougars won a college football game on the road. They have a winning record heading into Pac-12 play and are fortunate enough to play Colorado in, what should be, another tune-up game for this struggling football team.
Despite Vegas oddsmakers flexing their muscles and proving to all Wazzu fans that their unbeatable spreads will ultimately conquer all, the Cougars did have some bright spots worth spotlighting
Offensive Game Ball
In the first half this honor could have gone to a number of players. Marquess Wilson had two touchdown catches and freshman Gabe Marks reinforced the hype that he received in fall camp with a touchdown and over 100-yards receiving.
But both players both had numerous dropped balls — Wilson in particular. Wilson, a Biletnikoff Award nominee, blatantly dropped a would-be touchdown on two occasions throughout the game. Once in the first half for what would have been over an 80-yard touchdown and once again during the second half in one-on-one coverage in end zone.
Wilson finished the game with a season-high 110-yards on five catches. He added two touchdowns, including an 81-yard strike from Halliday just before the half. His counterpart, Mr. Gabriel Marks, was also a huge factor throughout the game; adding six catches for 126-yards, including a 52-yard touchdown catch in the first half.
The catalyst to the offense, however, was Halliday — WSU’s back-up quarterback who took over for the oft-injured Jeff Tuel.
Halliday consistently stepped up in the pocket and made a handful of difficult throws for positive yardage.
After an early interception on the first drive, Halliday recovered to throw four touchdowns in the first half. He was able to avoid pressure and find his receivers downfield on a number of occasions.
Halliday finished the game 26-of-45 for 378-yards with four touchdowns (all in the first half) and two interceptions.
His completion percentage and interceptions are a cause for concern but Halliday did what he needed to do to win the game. Sure, he made some questionable decisions in the passing department but that’s what you’re going to get with Halliday under center.
He’s going to be a quarterback that isn’t afraid to fire the ball into coverage or take the shots down field.
High risk. High reward.
Tonight, Leach took some high risks with his high reward quarterback and — regardless of the the play-calling — the Cougars were able to chalk up a ‘W’ in the win column.
Defensive Game Ball
If anyone watched this game, the defensive player of the game won’t be going to Damante Horton, who attempted to hug UNLV receiver Marcus Sullivan for 75-yards on his way to a touchdown. It was honestly one of the more pathetic plays I have seen out of this defense in recent years — and that is saying a lot.
The defense as a whole struggled once again. The Cougars gave up 460 total yards and 351-yards through the air to a team that is dubious in the passing game. The front seven did their job and cemented themselves as the anchor of this lacking defense.
Not surprisingly though, the biggest bright spot on defense was Travis Long. The defensive captain proved to be unstoppable at times en route to a nine tackle, two sack night. He was able to pressure the quarterback seemingly at-will and was all over the field making plays in traffic and in space.
The defense as a whole had a horrible time trying to stop a very mediocre — actually terrible — UNLV offense which is a serious cause for concern heading into Pac-12 play.
One of the more pertinent issues with this Cougars defense is how often the blitzes have left the cornerbacks out-to-dry. Either the blitz’s need to bother the quarterback enough that the secondary can make plays on the ball or the secondary needs to be better in coverage.
Neither is happening right now and it’s resulting in opposing quarterbacks having the time to shred our secondary.
Long can’t do it all and, like numerous areas of this football team, it will need to be examined — and fixed — during practice as we inch closer into the crucial period of the 2012 schedule.
Special Teams Game Ball
There really wasn’t much action on the special team front this week. There were no huge kickoff or punt returns and the Cougars didn’t attempt a field goal. Andrew Furney was 5-of-5 on extra points, so there’s that, and Leon Brooks returned one punt for negative one yard. Awesome.
Teondray Caldwell struggled to get anything going on kickoff returns after back-to-back strong weeks returning kicks. He amassed just 27-yards on two attempts.
Unsuspectingly, one of the more consistent bright spots throughout the game — and typically overlooked this season — was Michael Bowlin, WSU’s junior punter.
Bowlin continued his strong kicking with four punts that amounted to 213-yards and a touchback. He averaged 53.3 yards-per-punt and had a long of 60-yards.
Regardless of UNLV’s inability to move the ball at times, Bowlin was instrumental in backing the Rebels up in their own territory and making sure that they had to go a long ways to find the promised land. Also, as he has all season, Bowlin was able to limit UNLV to just two kickoff returns with his mammoth kicks into the back of the endzone.
Bowlin’s huge leg was something the Cougars special teams definitely missed last season and his impact is already being felt this year.
Total yards — 461
Passing — 26-45 — 378 yards — 8.4 YPA
Rushing — 21 carries — 83 yards — 4.0 YPC
First Downs — 18
Penalties — 12 — 128 yards
Time of Possession — 24:28
Connor Halliday: 26-45, 378 yards, 4 TD, 2 INT
Carl Winston: 12 rushes, 58 yards, 4.8 YPC
Leon Brooks: 6 rushes, 35 yards, 5.8 YPC, 1 TD
Gabe Marks: 6 receptions, 126 yards, 1 TD
Marquess Wilson: 5 receptions, 110 yards, 2 TD
Isiah Myers: 5 receptions, 45 yards, 1 TD