It's no secret that the Cougar defense has a serious problem with tackling this year. Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter exposed the defense in the opener and the problem has only gotten worse -- save for a decent game against SMU. Is there any fix in sight for WSU? Why has the tackling been so terrible this year?
Listening to the WSU players and coaches, it's clear that there's more to the problem than simply not knowing how to tackle. At this level, players know what they're doing. They've risen through the ranks and made it to division one, demonstrating an ability to tackle along the way. Technique is part of it, but there's more to the issue than meets the eye.
After the USC game, Paul Wulff said, "Some of this does have to do with youth. You know, it really does. We work on it all the time. Size, and strength and confidence has a big part of being a good tackler. You gotta be able to match up to people and have that kind of confidence. I think that's part of it."
Confidence is definitely part of them problem. Watching the Cougars on Saturday, then watching some of the highlights again later, that much was clear. Players just didn't look like they wanted to hit somebody at times.
Travis Long also made it noted that being in the wrong position -- perhaps being too aggressive -- also played a part.
"A lot of times, we're overpursing. The flows getting too far one way and they're just able to cut back on us." Long said, "We need to slow down and take better angles and quit lunging and reaching. When we're flowing too fast one way, we need to reach and try to make the tackle and that's not the proper way."
Watch these video highlights from Saturday. Take note of what happens on Havili's run on USC's first play from scrimmage.
On the run, you see all three factors of poor tackling at work. Players are well out of position as Havili hits the hole, cuts back and breaks into the second level. Later in the run, Daniel Simmons drops his head while going in for the tackle, deciding to make a bee-line towards the stands for a hot-dog instead. He looked down and never touched Havili because of it. Finally, you see the confidence issue. Chima Nwachukwu plays patty-cake with Havili down the sideline before throwing in the towel and taking Nolan Washington out of the play.
Combine players out of position, poor technique and a lack of confidence and it adds up to 30+ missed tackles.
Now fast-forward to about 2:55 in the video. Deone Bucannon has a series of plays where he puts on a tackling clinic for the Cougs. First, he goes low on David Ausberry, taking him out at the knees. He didn't wrap, but he stepped-up, squared-up and delivered a blow. On the next play he does it again, this time wrapping the tight end's legs up. The play after that, he over-pursues Ronald Johnson, recovers and makes the tackle on the sideline. While he's moving in to deliver the hit, Johnson cuts back, leaving Washington grasping at air after he over-pursued.
Finally, skip ahead to about 3:45. With Allen Bradford running down the sideline, Deone Bucannon -- who else -- runs straight through Johnson and drops Bradford in one fluid motion. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a player that wants to hit.
In an effort to find that killer instinct, the Cougs have gone full-contact this week in practice. Previously, they've shied away from hitting for the full week, hoping to preserve the depth that's already so thin. I don't blame them after seeing players fall left-and-right in camp, including losing LeAndre Daniels permanently and Toni Pole for the season.
The WSU defense has to figure out how to tackle. Players need to be placed in the right position to make plays, they need to square up, using the proper form and, most importantly, they need to have a hitters' mentality.