There was an odd end to the Cougars' 39-13 loss to Stanford on Saturday. One you may not have seen on TV.
As the Crimson and Gray left the field, there was a round of applause for the home team.
It was deserved. Respectful. Exactly the kind of thing an awesome fanbase like ours would do. Especially after seeing their ballclub make a marked improvement against a decent conference foe.
Still, something didn't feel right.
Like I said after the game via Twitter: "Round of applause after a 39-13 loss. This is how far we've fallen."
And, while sad, it still rings true to me. A 26 point loss to a middle tier Pac-10 team is now officially an improvement. Something to get modestly excited about. And - please allow me to flaunt my prognostication skills here - it was exactly how I expected the game to turn out. The Cougs did not cover the 17 point spread, and my 38-17 game score prediction was only five combined points off from the real thing. Stanford was a little worse; the Cougs were a little better. Ho-hum.
The point is when you're celebrating your team not getting drubbed by 58 points, your program is in a sad state. What's so frustrating about it is the Cougars did so many things right on Saturday, and still got beat easily. For example, if I had told you before the game:
- The Cougars would commit zero turnovers
- WSU would outperform Stanford in passing yardage, 247 to 193
- The Cougs would only commit 24 yards worth of penalties
- Dwight Tardy would average 4.5 yards per carry
- WSU would be almost even in total yards with Stanford as late as the third quarter
You'd feel pretty good about the Cougs' chances, right? Good enough to believe we'd be in the game, or at the very least only down by a touchdown or two.
And we should have been. However, Stanford did exactly what they had to do, refusing to turn the ball over and letting Gerhart's steady hand carry them to a victory. WSU did little to help their cause, with special teams gaffes and the inconsistent offense you've come to expect with two quarterback systems.
Let's talk about special teams first. The Cougars wasted a half's worth of kick returns by using Aire Justin in favor of James Montgomery. Let's not go crazy about Justin's horrible decision to start a return seven yards back in his own end zone; he knows that was a bad call and so do the coaches. What was a poor decision, however, was failing to put the better pure runner (Montgomery) out there in the first place. Justin is a defensive back who managed 16 yards per return. Montgomery is a running back who averaged 30 yards on three returns and gave the Cougars some hope in the field position game. Let's keep him there. (Side note: I'm growing to like Montgomery - especially the whole "I'm going to hit the other guy before he hits me" mentality")
Kickoff coverage was atrocious. It's very troubling because it speaks to our lack of talent and athletes available for special teams. Wulff even resorted to the squib kick, and let me be clear when I say I wish we treated squib kicks like the plague. I hate them. Hated them ever since Doba decided it would be a better idea to let a coverage man carry the ball to the 40 rather than the actual return man. I know they're better than a touchdown, but it's just so weak to gift wrap the ball near midfield for your opponent. If you do do it, at least kick the ball down the middle so it won't roll out of bounds and you can get your coverage team to the ball faster. And don't get me started on punt coverage, most notably the 45 yard boot by Forrest that nearly hit the sky but still didn't provide enough time for our team to get within ten yards of the return man. On the flip side, at least we know Reid Forrest is our team MVP.
Meanwhile, I find myself beginning to question Wulff's coaching decisions. For example: why are we always rolling out Lopina in a direction where he has to make a throw back across his body? Is there any good reason for this? Maybe those of you with football coaching experience out there can help me out. Also - and this is one of newly retired John Madden's pet peeves - why are we consistently throwing the ball short of the marker on third and long? Assuming the receiver is going to get enough YAC every time for the first down is nonsensical. And finally, do you really need a timeout to figure out that going for it on fourth down - trailing by 19 points in the fourth quarter on your opponent's 36 yard line with a sketchy kicker - is a good idea? I actually heard someone in the bathroom throw out Mike Price's name as a coaching possibility.
While I appreciate Nuss' optimism, I'm not so thrilled with our rush defense. If you look at the whole game's stats WSU still gave up a horrific 6.9 yards per carry. Yes, I'm aware some of it came late with backups in, but all that proves is that our depth is still far inferior to our opponents' depth. If you look at Gerhart's full game, he averaged 5.3 yards per attempt. Now, I feel a little better about that, because if we can be mediocre against a great running back we can at least hold our own in some of these games. But Andrew Luck's field day running the ball (8.8 yards per attempt) is inexcusable. So is making Tavita Pritchard look like pre-dogfight Mike Vick later on in the game.
I'm not sure why it was so disappointing. Like I said, this game turned out practically the way I thought it would. I guess it's the confirmation there isn't much hope for this season. Some teams have good offenses but bad defenses. Others have strong D but no O. We have neither - with a side of special teams issues (except for Forrest Fire the Second, of course). I think part of myself wanted to see the Cougars surprise me; the way UW surprised me by hanging in there with a surprisingly bad LSU team (this is why I don't gamble on sports).
At the end of the game, I too was clapping my hands. I loved the effort, the intensity, the improvement on both sides of the ball. Even the pregame handshake turned out to be a nice show of sportsmanship that was a lot cooler in person than it had appeared on the televised broadcasts of other games.
Still - I hate how far we've fallen. And how long it's going to take to make it back.
So, Coug Nation - do you have anything else to vent about from Saturday's game? Any more reasons for optimism? That's what the comments are for.