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CougCenter Player of the Week: Hercules Mata’afa

Lots of great offense, but we're going with defense.

NCAA Football: Eastern Washington at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Almost any time a team wins, there is no shortage of good-to-great performances that played a big part. When a team puts up 51 points and gives up 33, you’d probably expect the standout player to come from the offense. While we could have gone that direction after WSU wrecked Oregon, we chose a defender.

It’s no secret that WSU’s defensive line in general, and the pass rush in particular, has not been nearly as effective as it was last season. WSU’s front four hasn’t been able to muster much pressure, which led to the secondary getting exposed more than it did in 2015. The loss of Destiny Vaeao and Darryl Paulo stung a bit more than we probably expected.

Saturday night, that all changed, as the defense harassed Dakota Prukop, and largely held Royce Freeman in check, save for one long run. Over the final 40 minutes, the WSU defense allowed just 12 points. If you can do that against this year’s Oregon team, and their horrendous defense, you will almost certainly win. That’s exactly what happened Saturday.

2nd Runner-Up: Luke Falk

While it’s no secret that Falk has not been himself so far this season, it’s not like he’s been Stan Gelbaugh. He seemed to right himself a bit Saturday, even though there were a few times when he stood, stood, stood there and waited. He completed 75 percent of hiss passes. More importantly, Falk averaged 7.7 yards-per-attempt. He took more advantage of the middle of the field, and it really paid off.

1st Runner-Up: Jamal Morrow

Morrow had a sneaky-incredible game, which I somehow overlooked until I checked out the stat sheet. I knew he caught alot of passes, but man, he was a monster in the running game, along with the other two backs. He averaged just under a first down on each of his 13 carries, totaling 122 yards and scoring twice. If that wasn’t enough, he caught another seven passes for 68 yards. Not a bad night for Jamal.

Winner: Hercules Mata’afa

While Hercules has been a steady presence this season, he hadn’t really exploded. That changed Saturday. Mata’afa was everywhere, finishing with 3.5 tackles-for-loss and a sack. That sack was a big one. WSU had just failed to score for the second time in a row after driving inside the Oregon five yard line. Oregon was one big play away from getting back in it. Not so fast.

Mata’afa burst through the line and forced Prukop to scramble. As Prukop tried to escape, Mata’afa brought him down before Prukop was able to throw the ball away. Safety for the Cougs. If you’re a believer in momentum, that was a huge play. The Cougars went up 30-14, and Oregon never got closer than 10 points the rest of the way. How much havoc was Hercules causing? Let’s let him answer that himself.