WSU-SMU RECAP: A Few Game Thoughts

Well, the Cougs hung with SMU for two quarters before stumbling down the stretch en route to a 35-21 loss. There's no doubt WSU looked better today than it did the last two weeks, showing some promise and more glimpses of what they can become.

On to the game thoughts.

  • Paul Wulff deserves credit for today. The Cougs lost but the team came out prepared and didn't stumble out of the gates today. The emphasis on tackling in practice? It showed. WSU was mentally prepared for SMU and played sound, solid football for most of the game. We wondered if Wulff could take some of the heat after the MSU game. He did well and impressed me today.
  • Two years and three games is enough time for me to decide that Todd Sturdy simply isn't a good offensive coordinator. His playcalling is bland, the adjustments are non-existent and the weapons the offense has aren't being utilized. With the talent WSU has at the skill positions, the offense shouldn't look like it did today.
  • SMU loves to blitz. They bring pressure nearly every play, coming right up the middle with most of their blitz packages. Instead of trying to get the ball out wide, the Cougs continued to run square into the blitz or drop Tuel straight back. Would it kill Sturdy to throw a few slants, wide receiver swings or running back screens? Against a defense that pinned their ears back and teed-off, these simple adjustments would've done wonders.
  • This was what we expected from the defense before the season. The Cougs threw different looks at SMU, made plays in space and got pressure from every angle. Some of the blitzes were predictable -- like on every third down -- but it worked much of the time. The defensive line was stunting and twisting, giving the Mustang offensive line trouble all day, forcing some bad throws from Padron. Chris Ball and Jody Sears -- though I have no idea what Sears does -- get a tip of the cap today.
  • Kevin Kooyman had the game of his life. The senior defensive end was glued to SMU quarterback Kyle Padron's hip pocket most of the day. When he wasn't, Kooyman got his hands up and still made plays. At one point, Kooyman came around the end, stripped Padron, recovered and made the tackle across the field.
  • Jeff Tuel had another inconsistent day today. At times, he was brilliant. Other times, he looked lost out there -- like I'd expect a sophomore to look. Tuel has a tendency to lock on to receivers, missing wide-open reads and forcing throws into coverage. Keep in mind he's still young, but he needs to shore up some of these mistakes. On the plus side, we're three games in and Tuel has only thrown one interception, making a throw against MSU he had no business making.
  • Something has got to give with the offensive line. Between whiffing on blocks, not being able to hold blocks and missing blitz pickups, it left Tuel with little time to throw and a running game that sputtered for much of the game. The Cougar running backs carried the ball 28 times for a paltry 66 yards, averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Just like the last two years, trying to establish the run is a futile effort.
  • Protecting wide receivers is a point of emphasis this year, but the hit Deone Bucannon laid in the first quarter was not a penalty. The hit itself was clean -- he led with his shoulders/forearms and didn't hit head-high -- but may have been a step late. Still, I'd rather he lays the hammer than pulls up and plays scared. It was a bang-bang play and I loved the aggressiveness.
  • Speaking of Bucannon, I'd love to see more of him in the backfield. He's young and may make mistakes, but he has a boatload of talent at safety. I know Chima Nwachukwu is a senior leader, but Bucannon has been pushing him since fall camp has begun and held his own against a potent SMU offense today. The kid needs to see the field.
  • Casey Locker also had himself a nice game. The redshirt freshman had his name called quite a few times today and was all over the place in the defensive backfield. The future is bright in the Cougar secondary.
  • Welcome back, linebackers. Myron Beck, Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Mike Ledgerwood and, of course, C.J. Mizell played admirably today. They wrapped up, made tackles and were all over the place on blitzes and in pass coverage.
  • Marquess Wilson had his second game with 100 yards receiving. It's not just the yards, but how he's getting them. In the first half, Wilson went up and out-jumped a corner to haul in a pass from Tuel. Late in the fourth, he finally broke one, taking it 68 yards to the house. The man is a play-maker.
  • Seven punts for 335 yards and an average of 47.6 yards per punt. Reid Forrest did more for his Heisman campaign today than Jake Locker.
  • On the other side of the special teams coin, Nico Grasu shanked his only attempt of the day, a 27-yard chip shot. The false start before the kick served as the old self-icing the kicker for the Cougs. Some will wonder why WSU didn't kick the field goal twice in the fourth quarter. I'm guessing Grasu was still nursing his oblique strain and Wulff wasn't exactly confident in the kicker. In the end, it didn't matter too much.
  • We covered the spread! Jeff and I were trying to figure out the last time this happened. Last year against USC, maybe? Sad that covering the spread is a big deal these days...
It was a moral victory in the end, but at the very least it exceeded most of our expectations. USC comes to town next week in the Pac-10 opener for WSU. It'll be interesting to see if the defense can build off its performance today and if the offense can step-up and make some plays.
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