Here we are already three games into the 2010 football season. Three games is exactly one quarter of the season, so it seems like a natural place to take a look at how the team has performed. We'll start with the special teams.
Special Teams has made the shift from a liability (aside from our punter) to the team's strongest area this season. This is the only unit that actually outplays their counterparts on a weekly basis. In the past, the Cougs have had their backs broken by big punt returns or botched kickoffs leading to awful field position. Hopefully, that is behind us.
On to the grades.
After a battle in fall camp, Nico Grasu emerged as the guy to kick field goals and extra points. He wowed us right off the bat, hitting a career-long 56-yard field goal against Oklahoma State.
Despite making that one, Paul Wulff showed that he isn't really confident with Nico yet, passing on some field goal attempts in the 40-50 yard range against Montana State. Grasu did eventually hit a cheap shot to give WSU the win.
Against SMU, Grasu reminded us why we are generally nervous when he lines up to kick, missing a field goal that would have given WSU their first lead over an FBS team in regulation in two years. It was not meant to be, as he pulled the 27-yarder wide left. That is the problem with Nico, he is and always has been inconsistent.
I am pleased to see that he has hit all seven of his extra point attempts, that was a problem last year.
Heisman candidate Reid Forrest is kicking the ball farther and getting more hangtime than last year. He has been deadly accurate putting the ball inside the ten. He did shank one against Montana State after getting drilled on the previous attempt, so I guess he hasn't been totally perfect.
The coverage has been fantastic. Last year the team was giving up a video game-esque 13.05 yards a return. This year that has been trimmed down to just 4.44 yards a return. They are faster and tackling better. You would not have seen a touchdown like that flukey fumble against SMU last year, because there would have no one around the returner.
Grasu is about as inconsistent on kickoffs as he is on field goals. Sometimes he will drive the ball five yards deep, but most of the time it will land around the ten yard line. He is averaging 59.58 yards/kickoff, which is about one yard less than last year. Less than a quarter of his kicks end in touchbacks.
Luckily, the coverage team has done an excellent job stopping the returns, so the short kickoffs don't end up hurting WSU all that much. The Cougs are limiting opponents to 18.22 yards a return, a vast improvement over the 27.72 they gave up last year. The upgrade in depth that we hoped would be there before the season appears to be paying off.
Punt returns and kickoff returns have improved, they are no longer holding the team back (except for the near-disastrous fumble by Staden against Montana State). They are still not yet a point of strength.
The loss of Rickey Galvin hurts, as he was poised to make big plays in the return game. Isiah Barton has stepped in on kickoffs and is averaging 22.0 yards an attempt. Freshman Leon Brooks has been put in charge of returning punts and has faired well so far, gaining 40 yards on his four attempts.
Bottom line is that while the group is improved, it is hard to see that many big plays coming out of return game, which is something this team could really use.