Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.
Last week, we cautioned against disregarding the UCLA Bruins and looking ahead to the Utah Utes. The team had to keep their focus on the visitors from Westwood, a team that, despite being 0-3 coming into the game, had some talent and was desperate to show the world they should command some respect.
As it turns out, we’ve never been more prophetic. Unfortunately.
The Cougs certainly treated the Bruins like an opponent that deserved respect ... for about 40 minutes. Then the wheels and the body and the exhaust and the engine and every last piece of metal came off the bus and the Bruins marched out of the Palouse having completed the third largest comeback in the history of college football. The offense bears a little responsibility for that; four fumbles and two interceptions, including the incredibly untimely one from Easop Winston Jr., on the Cougs’ second to last drive and Anthony Gordon’s on the one to follow. But they still did score 63 points and were moving the ball at will. The special teams deserves from ire as well; they gave up a punt and kickoff return for a touchdown.
But a vast, vast majority of the credit for the collapse rests on the defense. Dorian Thompson-Robinson averaged over 13 yards per pass and a UCLA offense that had looked like a shell of Chip Kelly’s previous iterations at Oregon (though not identical by any means) moved the ball at will. There were holes in the defensive line you could drive a truck through, receivers were uncovered and the tackling was practically non-existent. It’s hard to recall a defensive performance so thoroughly awful in my memory and that might not just be the recency bias talking.
It’s hard to imagine the defense I was watching provide as much resistance as a wet paper bag was the one that adjusted so brilliantly against the Houston Cougars in the second half. A defense that slowed a high-powered Houston offense to a crawl for 30 minutes, only giving up a touchdown on the Cougars’ final drive when they played in softer coverage suddenly looked lost, outmatched, and completely befuddled.
We said a couple of weeks ago Tracy Claeys would be the most important person and, though we don’t like repeating ourselves inside of a month, we have to.
Tracy Claeys is the most important person to the Washington State Cougars this week. Not the probable pounding rain in Salt Lake City, not Jahad Woods, not Anthony Gordon, not anyone else. Only the man whose defense authored a performance on par with the Rutgers Scarlet Knights gets that distinction.
It’s perhaps the most obvious thing I could say this week, but I must: this defense must get better, and in a hurry. The other side of the ball is as loaded with talent as perhaps any team Mike Leach has ever coached. Though we never expected this defense to be on 2017 or even 2018, we certainly expected average to perhaps just below. But if the second half against UCLA is a portend of things to come, this team is in deep trouble and will be wasting an offense that’s an all-timer.
The defense almost certainly isn’t as bad as they were in the second half last Saturday. But it is abundantly clear they are not as good as the first three games may have indicated. Northern Colorado found room to run; superior Washington State athletes ensured that game was never truly close. Houston could have likely scored a little more if not for limiting possessions and some untimely penalties in the first half. UCLA ... well, we all unfortunately saw that.
This needs to get fixed, and in a hurry. No Zach Moss and a possibly hobbled Tyler Huntley on Saturday is a big help but even a 75 percent healthy Huntley is likely an equal threat as D’Eriq King, if not more so. And though Utah doesn’t have world beating receivers, given the space UCLA found, it’s not encouraging.
The run fits must get better, the pressure on the quarterback must get better, the pass coverage must get better, the tackling, must, must, must get better.
It all needs to get better. That rests squarely on the shoulders of Tracy Claeys.
I get knocked down, but I get up again / You are never gonna keep me down / I get knocked down, but I get up again / You are never gonna keep me down
Tracy Claeys, the most important person against Utah.