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WSU Vs. UCLA: Prince And Rosario Thwart WSU's Defensive Gameplan

Nelson Rosario is big. That caused some problems for WSU on Saturday.
Nelson Rosario is big. That caused some problems for WSU on Saturday.

Leading up to Washington State's game against UCLA, much of the focus was on whether or not the Cougs could hold down the Bruins' potent rushing attack.  The defensive coaching staff had their minds on the same thing, and wanted to avoid the embarrassment of being run over at will.  The game plan was to basically play two base defenses: Cover 0 and Cover 1.

Cover 0 involves having the safeties play in the box, leaving the cornerbacks alone to play man on the outside. Cover 1 has man on the outside with one deep safety in the middle of the field (as opposed to Cover 2 where the two safeties are splitting the field in half). This was all in an effort to slow down the UCLA rushing attack. To some extent, it worked for that purpose.  UCLA put up 4.9 yards per carry, a far cry from the 7.8 they posted a year ago.

The downfall of this defensive philosophy for this particular game was that it was very specific to the man UCLA had starting at quarterback.  Richard Brehaut does not possess the ability to burn a team deep. He is the less error-prone of UCLA's top two quarterbacks, and that is what earned him the job.  Playing Cover 0 and Cover 1 against Brehaut was betting the percentages. It was a smart move by the coaching staff and was working out for the first 2 1/2 series.

On the third UCLA drive, Brehaut had his leg rolled on by a WSU defensive lineman. The result was a season-ending broken leg.  Kevin Prince was thrust back into the the starting role. Normally, getting to a team's backup quarterback can signal an easy rest of the game for the defense. Not this time. Prince has more "tools" than Brehaut. He is at least as fast and can throw the ball farther and with more accuracy. However, he also has the tendency to kill his team with poor decisions as he did against Texas with three interceptions in the first quarter.  The problem for WSU was the arm strength and deep ball accuracy that Prince brought to the table. Suddenly, UCLA had the ability to exploit the man coverages, and they did almost immediately with their best wide receiver.

Nelson Rosario is essentially a wide receiver in a tight end's body. At 6-5, he has at least a seven inch height advantage on most corners and the bulk to be able to hold them off for 50-50 balls.  Damante Horton of WSU had the task to cover him on Saturday, and for the most part he had him blanketed, but was often beat out simply because of Rosario's size advantage.

Two plays after Brehaut went down, UCLA targeted Rosario for the first time in the game. Horton was left in man coverage on the outside as Rosario ran vertical towards the goal line. Horton was right on his hip, but Prince put the ball where only Rosario could catch it. The result was a deep completion in which Rosario lost the ball when hitting the ground, but was ruled down before doing so. Suddenly UCLA has their first big play of the game and they were on the WSU one-yard line.

UCLA tried the vertical route with Rosario three more times in the game. They resulted in an underthrown ball by Prince for an interception, an almost catch by Rosario that was knocked free on an excellent play by Horton, and the 58 yard pass that set up UCLA's game-winning touchdown (that time Rosario had actually created some separation between himself and the Cougar defense). In all, Rosario was targeted 5 times for 120 yards. That is a whopping 24 yards per target.  Rosario accounted for 60% of the Bruins' passing yards on only 25% of the pass attempts.

Prince's all-or-nothing ability worked out in the positive for UCLA in this contest. With the Cougars stacking the box and trusting their corners, it was essential for the Bruins to loosen them up with something down the field. Brehaut was not going to make that happen. Prince did with the help of his super-sized receiver and it turned out to be just enough to send WSU home with their first conference loss of the season.