Welcome back to what will (hopefully) be a weekly feature here on CougCenter, highlighting performances that stood out in the previous week's game. I don't think I need to tell you why this was not a thing that needed to be written after the first game. Fortunately for all of us, WSU had many more worthy candidates after winning at Rutgers Saturday.
I liked what I saw out of Destiny Vaeao for much of the game. He broke through to block an extra point, and helped pressure Chris Laviano into a Dave Krieg moment, recovering a crucial fumble in the process. Marcellus Pippins gets a mention simply because he is a defensive back who made an interception in an actual game. That is something we have seen precious few times lately. Although the pass defense wasn't great, the Cougar defenders didn't give up a huge play, particularly to Leonte "Piscataway Pugilist" Carroo.
The offensive line as a whole deserves mention as well. They kept Luke Falk clean for most of the afternoon, yielding only one sack and allowing Falk to scan the field (sometimes for what felt like hours) for an open receiver. They also opened up running lanes for Gerard Wicks on the few times his number was called.
Luke Falk also put up some gaudy stats and led WSU down the field when they absolutely had to have it. There's just something that gives me pause, though. I hope he forces me to come around. [EDIT]: I know what you're thinking. "Hey moron, Falk won POTW FOR THE ENTIRE CONFERENCE, yet you didn't even give think he was good enough to win the award for his own team?!" Well, yeah, I've never been accused of being very bright.
This was written before Falk was named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week. I'm thrilled that he won the award, and it's pretty impressive that he's won it twice in five starts, but my feelings on his performance haven't changed. While he deserves major credit for leading the team down the field to win, he left points out there that WSU won't be able to squander going forward, especially on the drive that ended up with WSU turning the ball over on downs in the red zone. Since I don't want to turn this into a post critiquing Falk's play, I will simply say that your opinion of his performance probably differs from mine, and that's obviously fine. On to the standouts.
2nd Runner-Up: River Cracraft
Lost among hubbub of his game-winning touchdown catch was the one Cracraft made to get the drive started. Falk made a poor throw that probably should have been intercepted. However, it bounced through the defender's hands and Cracraft snagged it as he was falling out of bounds. Without that play, that drive may never have left the ground. River ended up catching eight passes for 121 yards and the game winner. He was absolutely abusing Rutgers down the seam. I hope and expect that he'll do that more often this season.
1st Runner-Up: Erik Powell
Ok, this may be a little bit based on the paucity of production we got from the kickers in 2014, but considering where the place kickers were last season, Powell played a crucial role in the win Saturday. He drilled kicks of 46 and 47 yards (I actually thought he missed the first one until I saw the "good" signal), which far surpassed his previous career long. It appears that Powell's effort was noticed outside our little corner of the internet as well. If he can consistently hit kicks from around 40 yards and in, it will be a huge boon to this offense that we sorely missed last season.
Winner: Gabe Marks
We all know Marks has good hands. We all know Marks shows explosive speed. But man, Gabe Marks is one tough dude. There was more than one occasion where he got hit so hard that I thought we were going to see a Chaplain come on to the field. He somehow got up every time. I think my favorite part about his game is that he often knows he's about to get drilled, yet he shows no fear, and often catches the ball anyway.
This was especially evident on the touchdown he caught in the fourth quarter. Luke Falk squeezed the ball between the corner and the on-coming safety, and you just knew a big collision was coming. Not only did Marks hang on to the ball while absorbing the hit, he managed to sneak just past the goal line and get a foot down. It was a spectacular catch. For the game, he led WSU in receptions and yards, with 14 for 146. So here's to Gabe Marks, 2015's first player of the week. It is well-deserved.