Ah Cougar football, how I've missed you. My usual off days from work are Thursday and Friday which I thought was going to work out perfectly. I wouldn't have to adjust anything to go to the game on Thursday and would have all of Friday to hopefully re-watch a Cougar victory.
Things didn't go quite as planned. There is nothing quite like a two-hour drive back from Seattle following a loss like that. By the time I dropped everyone off, I got home sometime around 1:30 in the morning, only to settle in and gather the links for the morning post. By the time I was done with that, I'd had about enough Cougar football for a week.
Yet, for whatever reason, I decided to re-watch the game anyway. So here we are.
Here are some a few things I noticed the second time around.
If Halliday plays the rest of the season like that, he is going to have a monster year. I thought overall he played excellent. The interception looked to me like a miscommunication between he and Dom Williams. It wasn't a jump throw or a hero ball into double coverage. He thought Williams was going to do one thing, Williams did another. It happens.
Outside of that, he looked really sharp. He made good, quick reads and was fairly accurate in his ball placement. His receivers helped him out with a few nice catches. Another 11 games like that and he might just fool around and post a 5,500-yard, 50 touchdown season.
This was a mixed bag. Halliday helped them out by making quick decisions and getting rid of the ball. The left side of Joe Dahl and Gunnar Eklund fared better than the three new starters. For a redshirt freshman playing his first game, I thought Cole Madison did well. He held his own for the most part and while he wasn't pancaking and stonewalling defenders, he did enough. He's a promising player who should only improve.
Riley Sorenson and Eduardo Middleton have more ground to make up. Sorenson was in a tight training camp battle with Sam Flor and it wouldn't surprise me if Flor gets a shot at some point. Sorenson had his moments, but was very up-and-down and seemed to really struggle in the run game. Middleton got straight bull rushed for a sack in the red zone during the first quarter. For the size advantage he and Sorenson had on the Rutgers defensive line, I thought they got pushed back way too often.
I didn't chart how many times the WSU defensive line won the line of scrimmage battle, but it wasn't very many. Not only were they not moving the line of scrimmage back, but they were getting blocked out of plays and allowing Rutgers offensive linemen get to the next level. Comparing this performance to say the USC game last year and it's hard to believe it's the same group minus Junior Gauta. Is it possible Gauta is a bigger defensive loss than Deone Bucannon? It's a question after that performance.
Out of position constantly and missing tackles when they were in position. They played without Cyrus Coen, but still that group has to be much better if WSU has any shot of allowing less than 40 points a game this season. You could pull a dozen or more examples of issues, but one stuck out to me. On Rutgers' final drive of the first quarter, it had a 2nd and 12. The Scarlet Knights ran a screen. The throw wasn't very good, forcing the receiver to reach to catch it. By the time he came down with it and started to turn up field, Darryl Monroe was three yards away and had beat the offensive lineman to the ball. A wrap up tackle and it's probably a loss of a yard and a 3rd and 13. Instead, I'm not even sure Monroe got a finger on the receiver, other defenders couldn't get off blocks and it turned into an 11-yard gain.
All of the linebackers missed tackles and Rutgers picked on Mitchell Peterson quite a bit. Still, Monroe as the defensive captain and a Pac-12 honorable mention type is going to have to play better.
The BUCK linebackers once again failed to be difference makers. There were a couple of pressures and Ivan McClennan got in on a sack, but on a down-by-down basis that position is not producing enough.
Oof. With the caveat that no, I'm not a football coach and yes the entire coaching staff has probably forgotten more than I'll ever know, I'm not sure how anyone can defend this secondary. As Brian Floyd noted in the CougCenter emails, the opening 78-yard touchdown had Teondray Caldwell playing center field. Tracy Clark was also in press coverage. Let's put our redshirt senior who could never break the depth chart in a one-on-one situation and have a running back, converted to safety two weeks ago as lone safety up top.
There is hubris and then there is dumb.
I'd expect more growing pains in the back end. There is a lot of youth and inexperience back there. It should improve as the season goes along and they get playing time under their belts. Remember defensive coordinator Mike Breske also wears the hat as the defensive back coach. His unit as a whole and his position group have a lot of work to do.
The special teams wasn't terrible. The fumble was obviously crucial and costly. Still, there are too many starters on that unit to get the level of production it's getting. Nothing of note in the return game -- outside of a PR called back -- and too much given up in coverage. If you're going to fill the teams' units with starters it should be better.
The offense left too many points on the field, despite scoring 38. The defense was atrocious. The special teams was a net negative.
The offense appears headed in the right direction and with a little refinement could be very productive this season -- even if they still can't run the ball. The defense and special teams are headed the wrong direction. That was one of the worst defensive performances under this coaching staff. WSU hasn't been great defensively, but they've saved themselves considerably by forcing a ton of turnovers. When they only get one and have leaks all over the field, things like last night happen. Not what you want to start Year 3.