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The Monday After: It’s official - WSU is a defensive team

After yet another dominating performance by the Speed D, it’s time to recognize.

Colorado v Washington State Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images

On the heels of the disaster against the California Bears, I figured we’d learn a lot about the 2017 Washington State Cougars on Saturday against the Colorado Buffaloes. But the more I marinate on it — yes, it’s Tuesday, so I’ve been doing a lot of marinating — I’m not sure we actually learned all that much from the 28-0 dispatching of the Buffs.

Years (or decades, depending on your age) of conditioning have led us to believe the other shoe is always about to drop when it comes to WSU football; so, in that sense, it was nice to learn that this particular group was resilient enough to bounce back from the previous week’s embarrassment, even in incredibly adverse conditions.*

*If you weren’t there, I don’t think the TV broadcast did it justice. Unless you were covered head to toe in a synthetic material designed to block out all moisture, it was horrendous. And even if you were covered in said material — as I was — it was pretty uncomfortable! Praise be to Craig’s seats under the club section, and all thanks to the couple who didn’t sit next to him on Saturday and enabled our instant upgrade in the second half. Hallelujah!

Then again ... isn’t this the new normal? Isn’t this just what Mike Leach’s Cougs do now? They profoundly crap the bed (usually at the beginning of the year, but they decided to change it up in 2017), then — as we saw again — display an amazing capacity for flushing it and moving on.

I mean, Gabe tried to tell us.

The workmanlike domination of Colorado is just the latest indication where this program stands. Sitting in the stadium, all I could do was marvel at a comfortable four-touchdown victory over an opponent I figured would give us a fight. Beforehand, I pegged the Cougs for somewhere between 24 and 28 points, given the expected conditions. I thought the Buffs might score a few TDs, leading to a fairly close game in which WSU couldn’t cover the double-digit spread but would walk out of the stadium with its seventh victory of the season.

Instead, an opponent that had fought tooth and nail to a trio of tight finishes in the previous three games wilted under an avalanche of three touchdowns in four drives spanning the second and third quarters, leading the Buffs to eventually look like they just wanted to get out of the rain, get on the bus, and head back to Boulder.

As I walked out the stadium, all I could do was smile. What an excellent victory! A shutout!! Of a not terrible conference opponent!!!!!

So imagine my surprise when I discovered there were people who actually were dissatisfied with some aspect of the game. I mean, I guess you could say it’s good that something less than Falk completing 70 percent of his passes for 500 yards and six TDs leads to some measure of discontent; high expectations are good for everyone. But ... geez, people. He was throwing a football in something damn near approximating the remnants of a hurricane. Let’s get a grip here. The offense was plenty good enough, moving the ball on the ground well enough to take the pressure off Falk’s arm and his receivers’ hands, which were unsurprisingly suspect. (I also think they probably could have put up more points had that been needed.)

More than anything, I found it amazing that the first comments I read had to do with critiquing the offense. Maybe it comes from the perception that this is an “offense first” team? Fans tend to view football through that lens anyway, but at WSU, this is even more so, given our coach. So when the offense sputters at all, it’s cause for concern, even if there are apparently legitimate reasons for the struggles.

But holy crap ... that SPEED D. Maybe it’s that offense-first lens that’s keeping some of you from appreciating just how incredible this is. You expected the offense to lead the charge, and the fact that it isn’t the best unit on the team is throwing you for a loop. Maybe it’s just an inherent distrust of whether this defense actually is for real, given the context of the last however many years — you know, that “other shoe” thing we mentioned earlier.

Whatever it is, it’s well past time to jump on the bandwagon and realize that a point prevented is as good as a point scored. It’s been eight games! Think of it this way: If I told you the Cougs were gaining the seventh-most yards per game in the country and were 42nd nationally in yards allowed, I imagine you’d feel really good about that. In reality, those two figures are flipped.

So what? Doesn’t matter which side is which. It still adds up to a damn good team.

It’s gotten to the point where the prospect of facing the Arizona Wildcats and Khalil Tate doesn’t even scare me that much. (Cue Brian Anderson lecturing me about the football gods in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...) Yes, he’s excellent. Yes, he’s explosive.

And yes, our defense is miles better than anything he’s faced yet.

Try to imagine Tate trying to get past Frankie Luvu:

Or Jalen Thompson:

Or Hunter Dale:

My favorite sequence of the game came early in the fourth quarter as Colorado was trying its darndest to at least get some points on the board.

  • 2nd and 3: Safe, wide pass to the field side, hoping the receiver can just make a guy miss or drag him for a few yards. Thompson doesn’t make the tackle, but he slows him up enough to allow about four other guys to rally to the ball for a two-yard gain (that looked like it was given an extra yard on a very generous spot).
  • 3rd and 1: Colorado lines up in a jumbo set; Phillip Lindsay rushes up the middle, only to be stoned by Jahad Woods.
  • 4th and 1: Colorado lines up in a jumbo set (again), Lindsay rushes up the middle (again), and he’s stuffed (again) — this time by Justus Rodgers. Turnover on downs.

Tate’s awesome. No doubt. He’ll get his. But if there’s a defense equipped to deal with him, it’s this one. I like our chances, just as I will in every game for the rest of the year.

Which brings us to an interesting final question: Do you trust Mike Leach to continue to figure out ways to get more out of the offense with four games to go? Yeah? Me too.

That gets me even a little more excited.

What We Liked

I found out that WSU put this year’s “Back Home” video on YouTube. I’m still not tired of hearing and watching this. Glad I got to go Back Home again this weekend — twice in one season is incredibly atypical, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

Who Impressed

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

Tay Martin, come on down! I wanted the true freshman to get a lot of snaps against the Buffaloes, and he didn’t disappoint. The most noteworthy catch was the one that resulted in him streaking to the end zone on a 50-yard bomb from Falk, but he had another one where he caught the ball wide and turned on the jets to pick up 10 yards down the sideline (pictured above).

And Leach clearly loves the young man:

“We have a lot of guys that want to play football ... Tay Martin really needs football if you go back to where he’s from and what he’s been through,” Leach said after the game.

Martin, from Houma, Louisiana, lost his mother to a sudden heart attack in 2016, and his father was incarcerated earlier last year. Martin’s goal is to provide for his siblings, aged 18, 12 and 10, who now live with his aunt.

On the radio with Jason Gesser after the game, Leach said if there was an MMA-style tournament with just the receivers, Martin would probably win — that’s how scrappy and determined he is.

With Tavares Martin Jr. returning this week, Tay’s snaps will diminish again. But here’s to hoping he takes virtually all the snaps away from the sixth-year senior he shared time with on Saturday who (again) showed next to nothing.

Honorable mentions: Fred Mauigoa, B.J. Salmonson and Noah Osur-Myers. Mauigoa and Salmonson have taken their share of criticism, but they did a heck of a job both keeping Falk’s pocket from collapsing and opening lanes for the running backs. Osur-Myers, meanwhile, stepped in well as Cody O’Connell went to the sideline with an apparent lower leg injury. Filling in for an all-American is one tall task, but Osur-Meyers seemed to do a splendid job.

What Needs Work

Burn those uniforms. Shame on any of you who voted for that monstrosity.

Up Next!

NCAA Football: UCLA at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned, WSU travels to Tucson, Arizona (6:30 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Network), to face the Fightin’ Kahlil Tates. Fortunately for us, Kahlil Tate doesn’t play defense! The Cougs have had a lot of success moving the ball against Arizona lately, and there’s no reason to think this year will be any different: Arizona has given up 30 or more points in four consecutive games.

Now, three of those have been wins — over Colorado, UCLA and Cal — with a loss to Utah, so it’s working out fine for them. That said, only UCLA can be considered a pretty decent offense in that bunch. If the Speed D does its job, there’s a good chance this week’s line (WSU minus-3.5) looks comically low.

Just like last week’s. Go Cougs.