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'started with the special teams. Now we move on to the defense.
Of the three phases of the game, it's this unit that has shown the most tangible development since the beginning of the year. Which is a good thing, because the year sure started with a giant "thud" -- 65 points surrendered to Oklahoma State. Things didn't look much better against Montana State, as a passive game plan led to the Cougs being picked apart for three quarters.
But then defensive coordinator Chris Ball decided to take the leash off, they finished well enough for WSU to beat Montana State and played well enough to be in the game on the road against SMU. It's clear there's some talent here, especially in the secondary; the hope we all had before the season that the defense might be able to keep WSU in some games seems to still be there at this point.
The season couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for these guys. What was supposed to be a vastly improved unit was simply horrendous in the opener against the Cowboys. All the things they were supposed to do -- gap control, containment, tackling -- were nowhere to be found in Stillwater. Things didn't look much better against the Bobcats; the run defense wasn't terrible, but the pass rush was nonexistant.
However, this unit redeemed itself to some degree against SMU. Kevin Kooyman had the game of his life in one half, Brandon Rankin was disruptive at times and Travis Long was generally assignment sound. Outside of a bad second quarter and one long run in the fourth, they really more or less bottled up the Mustangs' rushing attack. It still hasn't been as good as advertised, but there's potential to be seen here. The big tests, of course, are still to come.
This unit has been the weak point of the defense. Their issues have run the gamut from tackling problems to assignment issues. Those, of course, are the two things linebackers are supposed to be able to do above all else, and their inability to do so has led to a number of big plays. They were a mess against Oklahoma State, overpursuing and exposing the defense to cutbacks on one play, then staying home and bouncing off Kendall Hunter the next. Against Montana State, they were a total non-factor -- looking lost in pass coverage against smaller, slower players -- until blitzing in the fourth quarter. Like everyone else, they were better against SMU, but still were out of position on some of the big runs. These guys simply must play better.
We thought this unit was going to be a bright spot, and it turns out we were right. For the last two years, these guys have been physically overwhelmed by just about every team they played. It was not uncommon to watch the Cougs on TV and not see a defensive back anywhere on the screen as the receivers hauled in pass after pass.
Not so this year. The secondary did a stout job against the pass in Stillwater -- which, of course, led to more handoffs -- and was good against Montana State, where the Bobcats threw passes mostly to interior receivers matched up against linebackers. They were even better, though, against SMU. How many times do you remember coverage sacks in the last two years? Yet, that's exactly what they forced at times. The consistency still isn't there -- big plays still pop every now and then -- but these guys are looking like they could make this "Defensive Back U" once again.
Lots of potential, much improved over last year, but still miles and miles to go. Heading into the second quarter of the season, increased consistency should be the emphasis.