Welcome to plus/minus, a once weekly look at what went right and what went wrong for Cougar Football during the previous outing. Unfortunately, as far as the scoreboard was concerned, there weren't a whole lot of positives from Saturday. WSU dug a 15-0 hole in the first half and never climbed out en route to a 39-13 loss. Nevertheless, there were some bright spots for the Cougs, during a game where there were fittingly a few breaks of sun among all the clouds. Starting with...
+ Illusion Plays: They aren't "trick plays". A trick is something... well, this is a family blog so I won't say it. Outside of a touchdown reception by Alex Brink, we rarely saw much in the way of trickeration during the Bill Doba era. That changed Saturday, when two reverses and a Brandon Gibson pass attempt proved that Wulff isn't afraid to get creative on offense. More importantly, the first reverse was successful and the Gibson pass, with a little more on it, could have resulted in a touchdown.
- Third Down Playcalling: I'm OK with the occasional draw play on third and long. And sometimes a short pass can lead to a big gain. But here's a sampling of Wazzu's third down play selection (Courtesy: ESPN):
3rd and 18 at WSU 31 Logwone Mitz rush for a loss of 2 yards to the WshSt 29.
3rd and 9 at WSU 40 Gary Rogers rush for 8 yards to the WshSt 48 out-of-bounds.
3rd and 12 at WSU 27 Gary Rogers pass complete to Michael Willis for 4 yards to the WshSt 31.
3rd and 16 at WSU 14 Dwight Tardy rush for a loss of 1 yard to the WshSt 13.
3rd and 8 at OKST 25 Gary Rogers rush for 5 yards to the OKSt 20.
3rd and Goal at OKST 6 Gary Rogers rush for 3 yards to the OKSt 3.
Now - those last two plays set up successful fourth down conversions, so Wulff gets somewhat of a pass on those. But even then - running the ball, and failing to pass the ball beyond the first down marker, can really harm your team's chances of keeping a drive alive. Rushing it on 3rd and 10 (or longer) is really only acceptable when you are trying to avoid being backed up against the goal line, or trying to catch the opposition completely off guard. And if you are going to run, please use Dwight Tardy or Chris Ivory - not Gary Rogers. Rogers is a pocket QB and a pretty darn good one, so let's not risk injury when there are better options in the backfield already.
- Punting: Dan Wagner's day doesn't look awful on paper. He was busy, with 8 punts averaging 38 yards, including one inside the OK state 20. But those punts certainly didn't look solid in person. When there was distance, there was little height, and when there was height there was little in the way of distance. Oklahoma State was essentially spoon-fed a great special teams day, averaging 24.8 yards per punt return. The average net on each punt was 23.5 yards - giving the Cowboys prime field position to work with all afternoon. There is hope, including a 51 yard boot by Wagner - but the fact that the Cougs are in the position of having to use a true freshman while sophomore Reid Forrest is injured shows how little Doba cared about depth on special teams. The good news: Forrest will likely return in the next few weeks, and expect Wagner to improve as the season goes on.
+ Dwight Tardy and Chris Ivory: 91 yards on 24 carries isn't a dream day, but the Cougar running backs did a consistently good job against a decent front four for the Cowboys. While they had trouble breaking free, there weren't many runs for losses or no gain, and they gave the Cougars manageable second and third downs. Ivory averaged 5.3 yards per carry on only six carries, a stat made a little more impressive by the fact he simply fell down for a minimal gain on his first attempt.
- Offensive Balance: How often do you think a historically good passing team (WSU) would throw against a historically poor pass defense (OSU)? 60% of the time? 70%? Nope. The Cougs only passed on 25 of their 59 offensive plays, good for 42%. Factor in sacks (2) and times where Rogers was forced to scramble, and the number moves closer to 50%. Still, we saw a surprising offensive game plan from Wulff. We knew he wanted to pound the ball, but this much against a suspect OSU pass defense?
+ Paul Wulff: Run/pass selection (and third downs) aside, it was refreshing to see the new no-huddle offense. Even better was to see a defense that has really stepped up its game from the start of fall practice. 39 points isn't good, that's for sure. But seven were surrendered by special teams, and more than that were the result of poor field position and receivers that just had too much size and strength for our undersized corners. And how about that first goal line stand? Wulff calls a questionable timeout before second down, and his team responds with two straight stops to force the Cowboys to a field goal. That's a sign of solid coaching if I've ever seen one.
- Kicking: Thank goodness Wade Penner had a second opportunity to make an extra point. I can't imagine how low his confidence would have been had his only attempt been the shot at the North end zone that went wide left. Kickoffs were few and far between, but the 90-yard TD return basically took WSU out of the game and they never recovered. Rooney has a good leg; he just needs to work in practice and be able to kick it deep in a game situation. Also - the short kickoff was perhaps the Wulff equivalent of a Squib kick. If you're that concerned about a return, just kick it deep and out of bounds. The result would have been better for WSU (ball on the 35) if they had.
+ Fans: False starts? Confusion between the visiting quarterback and the sideline? The Cougar faithful did their best 12th man impression, especially during the first half, at Qwest Field. More importantly, 50,830 fans packed into the Northwest's premier stadium, to watch a team picked dead last in the conference and working to adjust to a new coach. Hard to call the Cougars bandwagon fans with that kind of support.
What are your thoughts? And not just minuses, let's hear some positives too. Comments are open below.