WSU-USC RECAP: Offense And Special Teams

With the defense out of the way, it's time to look at the fun part of today: The offense.

New look, better execution, an offense that looked like a well-oiled machine at times. Todd Sturdy dialed-up a terrific gameplan today and the Cougar offense finally was what we've all been hoping for.

The offense hit a wall at times -- and it became a chess game against the USC defense -- but for the most part Jeff Tuel handled himself well and put the offense in the best possible position against a talented defense. As a sophomore, that's impressive.

The special teams play was solid, with only a blocked punt hanging as a black mark on the day. Faced with containing explosive freshman Robert Woods, WSU didn't allow a game-breaking return all day. Wes Horton did take a punt 24 yards block a punt and was credited with a 24 yard return, but limiting Woods to only one return for 10 yards is a feat in itself. The onside kick that wasn't caused many to shake their heads, but there was more to it than met the eye.

After the jump, a look at the spread offense and the maturation of Tuel.

  • Like I credited Wulff for preparing his team to play last week, Todd Sturdy gets the credit this week. The Cougs spent the week of practice installing a new game-plan in an effort to exploit the Trojan defensive scheme. It worked early on. Both Wulff and Sturdy talked about finally having the depth at wide receiver to run the spread and get guys in and out of the game. They also spoke about easing the offense into the scheme over the first few weeks. Remember, the skill players and line are young. The staff was worried about overwhelming them early, but it sounds like the spread may be here to stay.
  • Speaking of the gameplan, 41 passes and 26 runs, some of which were sacks. Someone got the "air it out" message.
  • The gameplan also called for screens from the onset, with Sturdy looking to tire out the defense by making them run sideline to sideline. Jailbreak screens were aplenty and worked early and often. USC made a few adjustments in the second half, but it was great to see WSU getting the ball out wide and treating the wide receiver screens as an outside running play.
  • In the second possession, Jeff Tuel had a throw he probably wishes he could take back. The route was an option, with Wilson either running a go or hitch, depending on the coverage. If the corner was in press, Wilson runs a go. If the corner was playing off, Wilson runs a quick hitch. Unfortunately, the corner was in-between. Everything got cross up and Tuel's pass went for a USC touchdown. With a sophomore quarterback and freshman receiver, these things will happen. What's important is that both learn from it.
  • The other two interceptions were the right reads but the wrong throws. On one of them, Tuel threw one over the head of Jeffrey Solomon, hitting the safety in cover two right in the numbers. On the other, he had Blackledge running deep and overthrew him a bit to the inside, giving the safety room to make a play. His touch on the deep ball was off today, but he also threw a deep strike in the fourth quarter that would've been a touchdown had the defender, realizing he was beat, not tackled Marquess Wilson.
  • The offensive line had a few missed assignments early, but held up pretty well overall. Working out of the spread for the first time this year, the margin for error was slim. Without tight ends to help in pass protection, the onus was on the five lineman to hold their own. They did. With the help of the running backs, who made some nice pickups, the line gave Tuel time and allowed him to make the reads he needed to.
  • James Montgomery is having a rough go of it this year. The senior rushed eight times for three yards today. The WSU running game, like clockwork, averaged 2.6 yards per carry. Logwone Mitz had a couple nice runs and Carl Winston broke his only carry -- a draw up the middle -- for 14 yards, so that was positive at least.
  • The pistol got turned a lot of heads, but both Paul Wulff and Sturdy downplayed it as a major change. The formation allowed the offense to run to either side and best-suited the run game the Cougs were looking for. By putting the running back behind Tuel, it allowed WSU to run to either side and keep the defense off-balance. Not a bad idea at all.
  • "Gloveless" Jared Karstetter caught a career-high eight passes for 87 and two touchdowns. Both of his touchdowns came on plays where he shielded the defender and made a nice grab in traffic. He's become somewhat of a safety valve for Tuel and has been a sure-handed target all year.
  • The rest of the receivers performed well today. There was only a minimal amount of drops, but there were plenty of outstanding catches that stood out. Gino Simone, who had fallen almost all the way off the depth chart, made the catch of the day, going up high to haul down a 20 yard pass in traffic. Good to see him back and making plays.
  • So, about that onside kick after the first drive. As you can imagine, Wulff was asked about the decision, but the answer wasn't what you'd expect. The kickoff coverage team had been working on aiming at a spot all week. At about the 25 on the right side, USC had a lineman on their return team. They'd been pooch kicking it to that spot thinking he'd either fall on it or they'd get a chance to come up with the ball. Instead, Nico Grasu kicked the ball about 15 yards and saw it batted out of bounds. Wulff wasn't happy with the kick, to say the least.
  • Reid Forrest looked human and had a punt blocked. I'm convinced this was to show Heisman voters he's really not Robo-Reid. In all seriousness, I hate that spread punt fomation. USC overloaded one side and the Cougar blockers couldn't handle it. They almost got to the first punt and did get to the second, picking it clean off of Forrest's foot.
We finally saw what this offense can be and it should've been exciting for everyone. WSU has the weapons to spread the field with four wide receivers and Tuel has the ability to make the throws needed to open up the defense. He was inconsistent at times, but take it for what it's worth. He's young, but he -- and the Cougar offense -- are growing up in front of us. It's not going to click all at once, but if they stick to this kind of gameplan, we should continue to see improvement all year.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go pray USC fullback Stanley Havili isn't granted a record tenth year of eligibility.
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