For this post you can blame none other than Nusser, he's the one who went and said nice things about the post I wrote last week so I'm writing another this week. I actually enjoy doing it so I appreciate the responses!
Onto the game, I'll start by saying there were multiple Eastern alum who spent the week talking trash to me about this one. Did you know they won a National Championship while we toiled at the bottom of the Pac-12? (Despite attending the semifinal game against Villanova with them they wanted to make sure I hadn't forgotten). I was hoping we'd put on a bit of a show following the BYU disaster so I could just smile back at my Eastern friends. Alas, they're using the "we kept it so close and you're supposed to win anyways so that's pretty much a win for us" moral victory argument. Not much I can say there in response, although I appreciate Leach channeling Dennis Green with the "we let them off the hook" post-game comment, no telling if there's a Coors Light commercial on the way.
There were a lot of good things to take away from this game, some may say its just because we played a FCS team, but I think we're making some improvements that we should all be pretty excited about. I'll get to those in a bit but first I want to start with the offense.
The CougCenter authors have made it pretty clear that they do not believe there is any Quarterback competition, or that there ever will be this season. Rather than senselessly beat the Halliday drum I'll instead talk about what I think is going wrong after the jump.
Jeff Tuel is not playing like the QB from 2010 who we all think is extremely underrated and one of the best in the conference. Yes, that seems like I'm stating the obvious. But, I'm not saying he just forgot how to play football and we might as well throw Halliday out there. Tuel has had a rather up and down, injury-riddled career for us, and this is probably his last shot. Here's what's happened to him so far at WSU:
2009: Thrown to the wolves against USC, had some moments in the season, DNF: Injured 2010: Good season overall, great games against Oregon St and UW. 2011: Looked rusty against Stanford, good against Or St for a half, Incomplete: Injured
Tuel has taken an absolute beating his time at WSU, maybe some of it has caught up to him? He looks extremely tentative out there so far. Do the WRs not understand how to find and stay in holes in the zone? The O-line isn't great but he's getting enough time out there. We actually had a running game yesterday for the first time perhaps since the Doba era so I don't think was it.
Instead, I think Tuel looks too afraid to make a mistake, like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders out there. From TV I can't tell if the WRs just aren't finding space. But, it seems that he's waiting for that absolutely perfect window to make a throw rather than getting the ball out and letting the WRs try to make a play. There's something missing between him and the WRs and if it gets ironed out we'll start seeing the 400+ yard games. However, I don't think the passing game we've seen so far will hold up well against the rest of the conference. 2 more games to iron things out. Last year when we had a Top 10 passing attack? Tuel played 1.75 games, Halliday 2, and Marshall Lobbestael with the rest. Something to remember.
Moving on, here are the other things I saw out there:
1) Caldwell and Winston combined for 113 yards on 23 carries and 1 extremely ill-timed fumble. Folks, that is pretty much a running game. Let that sink in for a moment.... There was space on the outside, and Winston even broke some tackles. I'm still a little concerned that we aren't getting much push up the middle but for this one I'm just going to be happy we broke 100 yards.
2a) O-line was better to me, largely because of the running game just mentioned. Giving up 3 sacks isn't bad, Tuel moved around a lot to avoid others so there's room for improvement. At least one of those sacks the D-line crashed to the right after the snap and the DE went to the QB untouched, that cannot happen.
2b) Poorly timed holding penalties almost cost us the game, cut that !*#$ out. And that's all I have to say about that.
3) Cyrus Coen had himself a game. Really impressed all around with his play. I believe he was also the OLB when we lost containment and let a boot leg go for 40 yards, couldn't tell if it was him or the DE who should've been there. Lots of potential there.
4) Front 7 of the defense looks so much better. The D-line consistently got pressure on the QB. Logan Mayes was in the backfield what seemed like a dozen times. Gauta and Pole both made some plays. The front 7 is much better than I thought they'd be at this point. Very, very happy with that.
5) DBs had another day to forget. It looked to me that when the WR went out of bounds (no, I do not believe he was "pushed"), Washington pulled up just a bit. That was enough to let that WR free for the 90+ yard TD. He should know better than to stop on the play but when the WR is running a couple feet out of bounds, I can kind of see why. This looks to be scheme related rather than players but why are the CBs 10 yards off the line when we bring a blitz? It looks like a giant flashing light telling the QB how to bail himself out on the play. The Eastern QB blew a lot of throws otherwise they would've had a lot more passing yards. Guessing they don't trust the CBs enough right now, and we were worried about Eastern's tall WRs. Either way, playing that far off will just give teams easy throws all day. Ugh.
6) Buchannon, you couldn't pull up on that one? From the replay it looked like he took at least 3 steps after the ball was gone. Yeesh.
7) Special Teams looked great. Bowlin had some excellent kickoffs, coverage team made tackles. We had a freaking Punt Return for once! Furney hit a 60 yarder! Then missed an easier one, have to stay focused there. Pole made a huge block on STs. Bowlin also had some good punts. STs looked night and day different from last week and the last 4 years, really happy about that.
8) The team needs to learn how to finish. Caldwell's fumble, holding penalties, and a 15 yard personal foul changed this game from being over at 31-14 to Wilson being out there trying to swat down a Hail Mary. Better teams will capitalize on those mistakes and we won't be so lucky.
Overall, there are lots of good takeaways from this game. If the offense gets in sync this team will really take off. The rest of the conference had a really good day and 6 wins is no easy feat right now so those 400 yard passing games need to come sooner rather than later.
Wow, its really easy to just start writing and keep going on and on and on....hopefully some of you made it all the way to the end here (a reasonable response would also be 'TLDR'). If you made it to the end, first off, thank you! After joining the Navy a year ago I've been stranded far away from any Coug fans and discussing all this through text messages isn't the same. Hopefully there was something interesting or insightful for you in all these words. As an engineer writing was never exactly a strength for me so any tips would be very much appreciated. Thanks!