WSU Vs. BYU: Grading The 'Three Things'

This photo, taken in the third quarter, is not the look of "swagger."

Each week before the game, I post three things I want to see. Sometimes they're specific keys to a game, sometimes they're big picture progress markers, sometimes they're kind of both. Let's revisit WSU Vs. BYU: Three Things I Want To See Tonight from Thursday and hand out some grades.

A note on the grades: I've decided to make this a pass/fail course, mostly because I get tired of people arguing about "HOW COULD YOU GIVE THEM A B+ ON THAT??? THAT WAS CLEARLY NO BETTER THAN A B-!!!!" Like the students in my classes, most of y'all get way too hung up on the details and end up missing the big picture. So, since I'm in charge, we're going to focus on the big picture.

Jeff Tuel completing at least 65 percent of his passes for at least 7.0 yards per attempt.
Grade: FAIL

Tuel did actually finish above 65 percent -- 30-of-45, 66.7 percent -- but he had a real hard time getting the ball downfield at all, and his yards-per-attempt reflected it by finishing a modest 5.1. Even if those two passes to Marquess Wilson that were negated by questionable holding penalties had stood, that YPA only climbs to about 5.7. That's not where anyone wants it.

Tuel's issues in the game have been well documented in the comments of various posts: He looked indecisive and seemed to be trying too hard to get the ball downfield, which resulted in him holding onto the ball too long. It seemed to be a combination of unexpected coverage from BYU -- which dropped seven and eight guys the vast majority of the time -- and still being new to the Air Raid, where quick decisions are paramount.

I fully expect Tuel to dramatically improve in coming weeks. Look for more thoughts on that on Tuesday.

Three defensive sacks.
Grade: FAIL

Oh so close! The Cougs finished with two sacks, which I consider a hugely positive sign. BYU was one of the best teams in the country last year at avoiding sacks, thanks in large part to Riley Nelson's ability to scramble. Well, WSU got to him twice and generally kept him from making big impromptu plays with his legs -- most of his rushes were designed runs.

No, Nelson wasn't exactly under duress all night. But the fact that WSU was able to generate any pressure at all is a step in the right direction. I think a lot of credit here has to go to Ioane Gauta and Toni Pole, who were able to create some push in the middle of the pocket and keep Nelson from simply stepping up into a running lane.

Despite the failing grade here, I'm encouraged.

Some swagger.
Grade: FAIL

I suppose this grade could be debated. I think there was some swagger, especially on the defensive side. The way the defense repeatedly stopped BYU in the red zone evidenced some resolve, and those guys didn't back down in the second half, even in the face of a big deficit. So I liked to see that.

But it's impossible to get the images of Tuel shaking his head and Wilson throwing his hands up out of my head. The "swagger" on a Mike Leach team should start with the offense, and there was precious little of it. The guys on that side of the ball looked tentative and unprepared for what BYU threw at them. I think nothing exemplified this more than Gabe Marks. The kid who spent all of camp saying "Too easy!" as he repeatedly abused our secondary got the snot knocked out of him on a potential first down catch and was barely heard from for the rest of the contest. Welcome to the bigs, young fella.

When Leach says after the game, "We’ve got to be a mentally tougher team; when something happens we can’t have all these bassett-hound looking faces on the sidelines," you know you're lacking in the swagger department. To be sure, some of that presumably had to do with the situation: Rowdy road environment, playing a mature and experienced defense that had an excellent game plan. And at some point, this team will leave the Wulff-era, deer-in-headlights thing behind. But it obviously hasn't happened yet, which means there wasn't enough swagger for me.

How did the team do with the things you were looking for? And do you disagree with me?

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