Let me start with this: I was pissed after last week. I mean, really, really, really pissed. I was as angry after Week 2 as many of you were after Week 1. And as fans are sometimes wont to do, I was thisclose to getting on here last Sunday and advocating for the entire coaching staff to be fired -- preferably on the spot.
But since Brian, Craig and I spent the better part of the immediate wake of the Oklahoma State game talking many of you down off the ledge, I figured I needed to take some of my own advice and wait another week to form any solid conclusions about whether this team is truly headed in the right direction.
So, do I feel any better after Saturday?
Yes and no.There was a lot to like yesterday. I was impressed with the defensive game plan Chris Ball and Jody Sears put together. I wasn't sure I was going to feel that way when I saw the Cougs come out in the same 30-stack that caused them to get torched against the run-and-shoot the last two years, but my fears were soon assuaged as WSU expertly mixed blitz and coverage packages to keep Kyle Padron and his cadre of receivers off balance.
If not for a bogus personal foul, Padron's impressive personal effort on a scramble for a TD never would have happened. And you can chalk the second TD up to a blown coverage from (I presume) Tyree Toomer. It's really not a stretch to think that WSU could have gone to halftime with a shutout. Obviously, that represents substantial improvement.
Yeah, they got lit up a little in the second half at times -- especially in the third quarter. But even in the midst of the third quarter, I saw a defense that wasn't completely lost. June Jones put together a good strategy for attacking our weak spots, and small breakdowns led to completions. But even through all of that, the defensive players never had that "here we go again" look in their eyes. Lots of resiliency there, which was great to see.
Other good stuff? The team came out prepared to play, and outside of the opening kick coverage, special teams were once again nails.
But for as good as I feel about the potential and progress of the defense, I feel equally bad about the offense.
I'll spare you the hardcore analysis on the problems with the offense -- Brian's going to go ahead and let the offensive coordinator have it on Monday -- but suffice to say I don't feel like things are getting better. After two years and three games, I am officially washing my hands of Todd Sturdy.
It's not so much the lack of execution -- that's to be expected with so many young players. It's that Sturdy is doing a horrible job of fulfilling his basic job description: Putting players in positions where they can succeed. Anyone who's watched this team for five minutes can tell you the talent on offense is NOT at tight end and fullback. Yet, what's our base formation? Double tight, power I. Beyond that, as Brian will tell you on Monday, he's not even using that personnel grouping well.
And I won't bother to get into the predictability of the playcalling itself, other than to say we ran the same basic zone run on five of our first six first downs of the game, and rushed the ball a total of eight times in the first quarter for five net yards. I'm not against establishing the run; I am against foolishly repeating something that's unsuccessful. Good teams can afford to do that until they pop one; Washington State cannot.
Oh, how I long for the days Mike Price. It must drive Mike Levenseller absolutely batty on a weekly basis to watch what has become a gross misuse of talent. "Variety" and "creativity" are two words lost on Sturdy. I'm trying not to be too down on the offense; Paul Wulff did tell us before the season that it was likely a year away from being substantially improved. But when the problems stem from scheme ... that's not something that should be excused.
Beyond that, the offensive line is still an absolute mess. Which leads to some uncomfortable questions. For example, if Steve Morton is such a great coach, and Harold Etheridge wasn't, yet the results have essentially been the same ... what does that tell us? Is Morton actually a bad coach? (Unlikely.) Does the line still need more time to gel? (Possibly.) Is the talent just this bad? (Also possible ... and a scary-as-crap thought.)
Whatever you decide, we've got a major problem on our hands.
But, on balance, I feel OK about where this team is heading. I don't know if statistics are going to say this team is substantially improved -- I know Craig is going to take a look at that this week -- but the eye test, in which these guys are in games longer and appear to be executing better, tells me this team is indeed better.
Could that all be a mirage? It's entirely possible. Oklahoma State could prove to be a middling Big 12 team, SMU could actually be not very good. But I feel pretty confident saying this team is better, and has gotten better each week -- something we were clear about wanting to see.
But if the offense continues to misfire like this, I have to wonder if the defense will be able to continue to progress at the same rate. Would they have been able to accomplish even more on Saturday if the offense had been able to move the ball in the second half? I think it's a fair question.
And I also have to wonder: If that continues to happen, will Paul Wulff -- ever the loyal leader -- allow Sturdy to take his job down in flames with him?