Over the first five games of the season, the WSU defense has been dreadful. The coverage was dreadful, the tackling was non-existent and the defense has been one of the worst in the nation as a result. The defense we saw today was much improved. Against an Oregon offense that plays like it's out of a video game, the defense limited big plays and made tackles in space. It was encouraging to see.
- As I said earlier, all of the coaches deserve credit. On the defensive side of the ball, I've got to hand it to Chris Ball. He simplified the scheme -- eliminating much of the stunting and gap-shifting up front -- and just let his players make plays. For the most part, they did just that, containing the read option fairly well for much of the game. The pursuit was much improved and players were flying to the ball, while still being disciplined. Travis Niekamp, the linebackers coach, also did a heck of a job. Working with new personnel, the backers were light-years ahead of where they've been. Kaufusi picked up the scheme quickly and Mizell had his best week, much of which can be credited to Niekamp.
- Over the first five weeks, it seems like a safety has lead the team in tackles every game. Not so, today. C.J. Mizell led the team in tackles, with Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Travis Long and Kevin Kooyman close behind. You have to go all the way to fifth leading tackler to find a player from the secondary. The front seven made plays today and the defense was better because of it.
- The younger, perhaps more talented, guys got to play at linebacker and they took advantage. C.J. Mizell used his speed and athleticism to contain, for the most part, LaMichael James. Sekope Kaufusi was flying around the field, as well. I know many of the changes were necessitated by injury, but I'd really like to see Kaufusi and Mizell at WIL and MIK respectively. Same goes for Bucannon at safety. They've shown they earn the playing time, so give it to them.
- Kaufusi deserves credit for the job he did this week. On Monday, he was told he'd be playing linebacker and spent the week shuffling between WIL and MIK, missing a day of practice in the process. His speed and strength were an obvious plus for a linebacking corps that needed a shot in the arm. Here's to hoping he sticks there.
- LaMichael James was held to 39 yards on 16 carries for a 2.4 ypc average in the first half. That, my friends, is impressive. He ended the game with 142 yards on 25 carries, a 5.4 ypc average, and two fumbles. For as explosive as he can be, the Cougar defense did a great job limiting him and making him work for every yard.
- After giving up 437 yards to UCLA, WSU only gave up 252 to the Ducks on the ground. The Ducks, by the way, average 311 yards per game. Let that sink in. For how bad the Cougar rushing defense has been, they held the high-powered Ducks below their season average.
- The pass defense, however, was not so good. Nate Costa and Darron Thomas were 21-27 with 304 yards and 2 touchdowns. The defense clearly was selling out to stop the read option, so some lapses in coverage were to be expected. Much of that yardage, however, came on quick wide receiver screens that turned into big gains after missed tackles. Oh, and that wheel route...