We've talked a lot about the game and the coaching staff in the wake of Saturday's game, but we haven't said much about improvement. Has this team improved and is it heading in the right track?
Jo-Jo got me thinking about that question and more with a comment he left yesterday. I should've been more clear in my last paragraph. He's right. This team is bad and we knew it was going to be a poor team coming into the season. There's still a very large gap between WSU and the rest of the Pac-10. That was on full display Saturday.
But how bad is the team? That's a question I just can't answer yet. Deciding that after one game is falling into the trap of extrapolating a small sample. We got whipped. That doesn't mean we'll get whipped every game this year. How they come back from this in the next few games will say a lot.
The bigger question here is whether the 2010 Cougars are better than the 2008 and 2009 teams. It's a question that also can't be fully answered after one game. We can get an idea of the direction, but by no means is it complete.
With 11 minutes to go in the first half, the Cougars were down 17-10. After fumbling the handoff on the first play from scrimmage, WSU found themselves down a touchdown in the first minute of the game. Here we go again.
Instead of rolling over, the Cougars traded three-and-outs with OSU for the next few series, stepping up and making plays to stop Oklahoma State. Now we have progress.
Oklahoma State went up 17-0 to end the first quarter and it looked like all was lost. Instead, WSU got on the board with an absolute bomb from Nico Grasu -- a 56-yard field goal that none of us saw coming. Another three-and-out set the Cougars up for a 56-yard strike to Marquess Wilson and gave us all a glimpse of what we expected to see from the exciting freshman. All of a sudden, after getting off to a horrific start, we had ourselves a game.
With all the momentum, WSU gave up another touchdown, this time on a deep pass from Brandon Weeden to Justin Blackmon. On the next series, the Cougars were in field goal range, yet opted for a fake, nearly converting on fourth down. Say what you will about calling for a fake, but with the game still within reach, why not take a stab at it? They had nothing to lose.
The rest, as we say, is history. The Cowboys finished off the half with a few big plays and put the game out of reach. What happened between the first quarter and second quarter was telling, though. The defense was making plays, the offense was starting to click and the Cougars were playing like we had hoped they would.
I saw flashes of what I wanted. At times, WSU looked like they could hang with Oklahoma State. The problem was consistency. For whatever reason, they couldn't sustain the formula that was working during the stretch where everything was clicking.
I saw players in the right places, only to bounce off Kendall Hunter. The players understand what they should be doing, but aren't all the way there physically, still. No play better illustrated that than the last-second touchdown in the first half. Tyree Toomer filled the hole, wrapped up, and was bowled over as Hunter fell into the end-zone. He was doing all the right things, but was physically overmatched.
I saw a more disciplined team.
Watching players get run over and pushed around illustrates that this team still has a ways to go. Expecting them to magically be bigger, faster and stronger after the offseason is completely unrealistic. The freshmen coming off redshirts add speed, but they're still only 19 years old.
The offense did look shaky, as well. Jeff Tuel came out and looked downright nervous. He was sailing balls, running for his life and looking like a wide-eyed deer in the headlights. He settled in and made some nice throws, though. Outside of the opening snap and a garbage time fumble by Lobbestael that most of us couldn't see, the offense took care of the ball. That's encouraging.
Special teams were much improved in the season-opener. Punt coverage was rock-solid -- outside of a late blocked-punt -- and the unit as a whole just looked better than they have in years. It may seem small, but we can also use the play of the special teams as a measure of depth. Instead of having to use tired starters or overmatched players, WSU was able to put backups on special teams this year. They did exactly what was asked of them and it paid off.
Yes, this team is bad. While I don't know how bad they are, Jo-Jo is right. At the same time, there's encouraging signs. I want to see how they bounce back. I want to see if they hang their heads or come out swinging. From everything we've seen and heard after the disaster that was Saturday, it sounds like this team wants to fight and prove they're better than what we saw.
So is all hope lost? If you looked at only the score and statistics, it sure looks that way. I don't think so. Improvement was there at time, but consistency was missing. If they can actually put it together for more than a small stretch, the results will come. Of course this is easier said than done.
So what do you say? For those that watched the game, was there improvement?