I usually try to avoid making too many definitive comments when watching a football game live. So much happens on every play, it's impossible to follow it all the first time around. The emotion of the game runs high and I spend most of the time watching the football.
Instead, I decided to re-watch the game a couple of times and write down some notes along the way. I'm leaving the detailed breakdowns to the other authors, these are just general observations.
- I came away extremely impressed by Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell. The offensive line gave them more room to work than in previous seasons, but both did a great job of getting more than was was blocked. Whether it was a broken tackle or a cut, they played well. I thought both did a good job in pass protection too.
- The Cougars stuck mostly with 10 personnel (4 WR, 1 RB), but mixed things up occasionally. They ran a jumbo package a few times with Jeremiah Laufasa at running back and Bobby Ratliff and River Cracraft along the line similar to a tight end. They scored a rushing touchdown from that formation, but didn't have a lot of success from it during the rest of the game.
- The end of the first half was brutal. The Cougars only had a minute and some change left, but poor awareness killed any chance they had. First, Cracraft went down when catching the first down pass along the sideline. He was focused on securing the catch, but could have caught the ball and got out of bounds to stop the clock. On the next play, Marks had the first down, but instead retreated and got stopped short. If he dives ahead he gets the first and stops the clock. Instead WSU lost more than 20 seconds and failed to covert the third down. Teachable game film, but things that need to improve.
- WSU used a few wrinkles, including the Dana Holgerson touch pass. They ran it to Marks, but the play was whistled dead.
- The Cougars also attempted to run a nifty little screen out of 23 personnel. Too bad the Auburn defense tackle ragdolled Mason coming out of the backfield. To his credit, Connor Halliday came off the read and hit Caldwell for four yards.
- Marks was open ... a lot. He absolutely toasted the corner on the big play to Bobby Ratliff and was actually running side-by-side with Ratliff, also wide open. With the extra speed and Ratliff to seal the inside, Marks probably scores on that play.
- I'm not usually one to complain about officiating. It's typically terrible both ways. I don't think it cost WSU the game, but I would love for someone to explain to me what pass interference is if neither of these plays were flagged. Thanks to Jeff Collier for the GIFs.
The ref thought about calling that, but .. nah.
- Want to feel sick to your stomach? This play was on WSU's final drive. It's a timing play so it's hard to fault Halliday, but a split-second longer and he hits Cracraft for the TD after his defender bit on the wheel route.
- No wonder the coaching staff raved about Joe Dahl last year. He was stout at the point of attack and rarely got pushed back. Showed good athleticism getting to the second level, but was a little lost out there. There were a couple of plays where he was out in front, but failed to find a block. I think that will improve as he gains experience, but Saturday was very promising.
- Rico Forbes didn't have as successful of a WSU debut. He has the most issues along the offensive line. He appeared to especially struggle when Auburn ran a stunt. On WSU's second series, Forbes was beaten badly for a tackle for loss on a run, then didn't pick up a stunt on the next play which led to the intentional grounding.
- Elliott Bosch and Gunnar Eklund were solid. Bosch got on the second level a couple of times, including the key block on the 4th-and-5 conversion. Eklund allowed a couple of pressures and that was it. Very encouraging performance.
- Maybe it's just me, but I thought it was interesting to watch the offensive line reactions on successful plays or touchdowns. In the past they seemed to get extremely hyped up when they scored a rushing touchdown. On the second rushing touchdown, there wasn't even a fist pump. They acted like it was business as usual and lined up for the extra point. Maybe they are expecting success a little more now. Or maybe I'm just reading way too far into things.
- I was really looking forward to watching Destiny Vaeao at BUCK and the results were well ... a mixed bag. Vaeao is new to the position and Saturday showed there is going to be a steep learning curve. He blocked himself out of several running plays and didn't do a great job of setting the edge. He got sucked inside on the 75-yard touchdown run. Now, when he put his hand on the ground and played similar to a traditional DE, I thought he got excellent push in the running game. The potential is there, it just may take a while.
- The same can be said for safety Taylor Taliulu. Tailulu was all over the place, but not necessarily in a good way. He got burned by Auburn's speed a couple of times, and wound up out of position. He missed a few tackles as well. Another guy with the physical tools but probably needs the game to slow down a little.
- Watching Deone Bucannon in run support is a thing of beauty. WSU would have allowed 500 rushing yards if not for Bucannon.
- Didn't think that was Darryl Monroe's best performance. Now, that's holding him to a high standard, but he was just slightly off. He got washed out a couple of times and then came up just a shoestring short of making a great play a few other times. Against a team with slightly less speed, Monroe is probably the defensive player of the game.
- I'm really looking forward to watching Kache Palacio this season. He got some time at BUCK and looked really good. Exploded off the line and bull rushed the tackle for a hurry. Also looked good in space and made a very nice tackle for loss. He's going to have a multi-sack game at some point this season.
- Nolan Washington looked really good in the first quarter but left with 14:22 to play in the second quarter after taking a huge helmet-to-helmet hit. He and Bucannon both went for a tackle and Bucannon ended up drilling Washington. And I mean drilled.
- If the first game is any indication Daquawn Brown is going to have a great WSU career. He came on late in the third quarter after both Washington and Carpenter left with injuries and he was all over the place. Auburn ran the ball most of that time, but Brown came up and made two excellent tackles. He nearly had two more tackles for loss, but missed the tackle. He did a great job of using his quickness to avoid blockers and get to the ball carrier. He was targeted once and ran stride-for-stride with his man on a deep route. Very promising start.
- WSU didn't sub very much defensively. Monroe came off the field briefly in the fourth quarter due to what looked like a cramp, but other than the one or two snaps he missed, he played the entire game. There was also minimal shuffling along the defensive line and at linebacker. WSU essentially left its best 11 on the field.
- The Cougars didn't let up much in the passing game, but we'd be telling a different story against an accurate quarterback. Taliulu, Damante Horton and Anthony Carpenter were all burned for long touchdowns but the quarterback missed the throw. I'm not too worried because the corners were obviously focused on stopping the run. Against a more pass-happy team, I'd expect those issues to be cleaned up.
- Darryl Paulo didn't play a lot, but got good push a couple of times.