We've discussed some of the good, including the defense up the middle, from Thursday's game against BYU, but now it's time to look at the bad. I'll preface this by saying bad doesn't necessarily mean doom and gloom. These are things that didn't look right in the first game. Most are also correctable.
Let's run everything down and see what it leaves us with.
Either Jeff Tuel was indecisive or the wide receivers couldn't find space. Because we're working off the television broadcast, it's hard to tell which side gets the blame here. In all likelihood, it's a little from column a and a little from column b.
We do know that BYU was playing a soft coverage. The other Cougars were dropping seven or eight guys into coverage in an effort to take away space at the expense of a significant pass rush. Tuel had time, but struggled to find an open man, even when things broke down and he fled the pocket. The blanket coverage, however, disrupted any sense of timing Washington State may have had coming into the game.
This can be fixed. The receivers will learn to find holes and Tuel will adjust to seeing coverages like this. It was different, and in the first game he had to try and get acclimated to what he was seeing on the fly. I expect both Tuel and his receivers to be better at this as they add to the database of things they've seen thrown at them.
The secondary is experienced, but will struggle. We knew the secondary had plenty of experience on its side. Between Damante Horton, Nolan Washington, Daniel Simmons and Deone Bucannon, there were guys that had seen plenty of snaps in college -- and Taylor Taliulu looked promising as a freshman. But the experience doesn't matter when there's blown coverages and miscues that lead to big plays.
The secondary is going to struggle. There's still trouble at the corner spots, and that trouble was on display Thursday night. Corners were getting turned around and burned by poor footwork, and BYU receivers had it relatively easy on the outside. Couple that with some missed assignments, and you've got a problem on your hands.
This one isn't going away, as far as I can tell. I still think Deone Bucannon and Taylor Taliulu have a ton of potential at the safety spot, but Taliulu will have to go through some more freshman growing pains. I also think Horton will be just fine this year, but Thursday wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring. They're going to have to rely on pressure up-front to hopefully bail them out this year.
The edges were soft. WSU looked pretty good up the middle, as we noted on Monday. That's a positive, and something that should be the core of the defense. But the edges are .... soft, for lack of a better word. There are containment issues and strength issues on both sides.
On Thursday, Matt Bock and Steven Hoffart played at the end spots, for the most part. When healthy, Xavier Cooper will take one of those spots. As I mentioned earlier, I'd love to see a setup of Toni Pole, Ioane Gauta and Cooper as the front-line. Pole and Cooper are solid on the edges and Gauta is strong in the middle.
Compounding matters was a SAM spot that's in flux at the moment. Eric Oertel was dealing with some sort of injury before the game and, while he's fast, he lacks size. Cyrus Coen saw plenty of time in the rotation at SAM as well, but there just isn't an answer here.
There was no running game. I don't expect Mike Leach to run the ball and try to gash defenses on the ground. But when BYU was dropping so many people into coverage, there was a mismatch up front. Taking out sacks, the Cougars carried the ball 10 times for 13 yards with a long of five. That's ... not good.
The running backs have to make guys miss. The offensive line has to get some kind of a push, or at least draw the defense upfield as it pins its ears back. In theory, something like the stick draw concept should've worked -- a receiver runs a stick and if it's not there the running back gets the ball on a delay. But none of this works without running backs hitting the holes and the offensive line giving backs room to work with.
If the Cougars are going to face teams dropping seven or eight into coverage a lot -- and I suspect they will -- there has to be some sort of run game (or quick game) to draw the defense up. There wasn't on Thursday, and Leach's offense sputtered.
So that's the bad. It's not catastrophic by any means, and quite a bit of this can be cleaned up in practice. Again, Thursday was the first game. There was going to be mistakes, miscues and trouble spots. How the Cougars learn from Thursday, and what they do going forward, will say a lot.