Oh well. Week one in the books, and now we have something to go off - and look forward to improving upon - besides practices and scrimmages.
First, great job yesterday by Brinkhater and of course, the comments. I think the vast majority of you saw the situation for what it is, which is a team that has a long way to go, yet still, you saw some things get better. I want to just touch on a few things, then we'll look at some links.
What We Liked:
1) The defense is better. I don't think there is any doubt about that. I know, 39 points is rough, but really, you can't lay it all at their size 14's. One of those scores was a kickoff return for a TD, and there were several other short-field situations where the D toughened up. That final score could have been considerably worse if, by chance, we had the 2007 defense out there.
But as many mentioned yesterday, we seemed quicker to the ball and we tackled better than we have in recent memory. Early on, and even well into the third quarter, there were very few moments where Okie State got outside the defense. We did a good job of not getting beat out there, and turning the action back inside. There was more pep in their step, so to speak, and they did in fact play with a swagger. To put it in proper perspective, you have to remember who exactly they were playing. This wasn't Idaho or Grambling State. Okie State is an offensive juggernaut, and their QB was the best dual-threat QB in the nation next to Tim Tebow last year, and we held our ground. Robinson ran for almost 850 yards last year, so if you would have told me we would hold him to eight carries for a mere 11 yards?? I would take that in a heartbeat! Plus we did something that was a huge improvement compared to last year, and that was THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS! Just 4-for-13 yesterday in a category where we were one of the worst in the nation last year.
2) The running game got going. What a nice surprise there. After a putrid first half, where we never even crossed midfield on EIGHT POSSESSIONS, it was nice to see them get in an offensive rhythm. The running game really got the offense going in that first possession of the third quarter. Out of the nine offensive plays of that TD drive, seven of them were running plays. The final tally of 114 rushing yards, or 3.4 yards per carry, isn't anything to write home about, but you can see the upside there. Both Tardy and Ivory had their moments, and wasn't it great to see Ivory play after being so questionable coming in? That was a relief, to say the least, and might be a great sign going forward. As Brinkhater said last night, imagine next season when we will also add the touted Cal transfer James Montgomery into the mix with Tardy, Ivory and Staden? Could be a pretty deep, talented backfield!
3) The offensive line did a commendable job. A unit so banged up and shuffled around even before week one, yet they held together pretty well. Granted that wasn't USC's defense out there, but really, they were a pleasant surprise. Even though Rogers struggled mightily, there were several times where he had more than enough time to set up shop and do his thing in a strong pocket. Just two sacks allowed, and only a handful of QB hurries all day. And they really fired off the ball in that third quarter, establishing the ground game and getting after it.
Like many have said all along, with Wulff as our coach, the offensive line is going to be a personal position of pride for him. I think we are going to be happy with what we see up front, and so far, so good.
Now, what we didn't like:
1) "Special" teams were far from special. I think we all thought this was going to be an issue, but WOW. Over 250 yards allowed in the return game, including the 90-yard KO return and punt returns of 42 yards and 68 yards?? BRUTAL is the only way to even possibly say it. That kickoff return for a TD, that middle of the field was so wide open, as soon as the guy had the ball for the first ten yards, I glanced down the middle of the field and there was NOBODY there. You or me with a few pre-game drinks in us could have scored on that thing. The hang-time on the punts was just bad, bad, bad. Too many line drive-type punts that are a returners dream. Time to bring back the rugby punts that roll for 25 yards and pop-fly kickoffs that are fair-caught at the 35? I know we lamented all that, but after yesterday, I welcome the idea with open arms!
Of course, we're rolling with a backup punter and all, and we are so thin that many guys not normally on punt and kickoff coverage teams are being asked to go out there and bust the wedge. But that has to improve, and fast.
2) The corners, defensive tackles and pass rush. Ok, there were some bright spots early on. As we stated above, we held our ground and forced field goals with a short field to work with. But Okie State figured something out, and that is our defensive backs had trouble with the size and athleticism of their WR's. Particularly Dez Bryant.
You hate to use that old injury excuse, but, losing our top cover corner Alfonso Jackson so early in the game hurt the experience in the secondary. Tyrone Justin was forced to get extensive minutes covering Bryant, and try as he might, it was a mismatch. There were at least a few of those jump-ball style throws, where Bryant was covered, but simply elevated and went up and got it. And let's face it, he has serious ability and was one of their biggest weapons as a frosh last year. He's going to be a name to remember in the Big 12. So I don't know what you can do on those types of plays, other than say "JUMP HIGHER!" But a look around the Pac-10, and there are a lot of guys like him we'll see out there. Oregon and USC's monster WR's will be licking their chops when they see film of this one.
The tackles are thin, thin, thin. We knew that coming in, and it was proven yesterday. Ahmu did have six tackles, so he was OK yet no tackles for loss or any pressure on the QB. Eichelberger is a nice compliment, but you can't expect to get by with those two in there for 60-70 plays. Losing Roof hurts, and Adam Hineline got in there for a few stops, but man, something has to be done in there. I heard Walden on the radio say that he couldn't remember a time where we lacked so much quantity and quality at the defensive tackle position in all his years watching WSU.
Finally, even though Robinson and the rest of Okie State didn't go video-game football on us, still, we didn't get enough pressure on the QB. He had a relatively comfortable 20-for-27, averaging 7.1 yards per attempt. Not fantastic, but pretty much in control. The ends didn't get the kind of heat that is going to be needed going forward. Greg Trent had the only sack of the game, and Kevin Kooyman had a couple of QB hurries, but otherwise, it was a non-existent pass rush. Maybe we'll see more blitzing next week vs. Kevin Riley and Cal, but we need to get pressure one way or another.
3) The most obvious of all, the passing game. It was Rogers' first game, and no, we're not going crazy on this one. He deserves a mulligan for a game that was a huge adjustment for everyone involved. New as in new QB, new starting WR's and TE, new coaching staff with a new no-huddle offense. Yeah, that's new. Was he out of synch? Sure. Was he wild with his accuracy? On some throws he was very wild, but others he was fine. But this thing wasn't all his fault.
First, the drops. We all love Brandon Gibson, and we know he's going to have a big senior year. But two of those drops were balls that he just has to make. Yes, one of them a DB made a play on the ball, and any DB will tell you it's their ball just as much as it's the WR's. But those drops turned out to be pretty big in the grand scheme of things. You have to wonder what might have happened if he catches at least one of those. Maybe the confidence is there and they loosen up the coverage for the other WR's. Maybe the running game gets going sooner rather than later, and they keep the Okie State offense off the field for a few set of downs. Who knows. But given the long body of work with Gibson, you KNOW this won't be an ongoing issue. It will improve, and probably next week. Heck, it improved in the 2nd half, and Gibson's second half was really strong.
And the new receivers had a lot to do with it. Far too often it looked like they were hesitant, confused or even running the wrong route altogether. Maybe there are a lot of "read" routes in this offense, where the QB and WR read the defense on the route and decide to either break it off or go deep? But in focusing on how the WR's were running their routes, there seemed to be some first-game issues out there. You can tell there was more thinking going on vs. pure reactions and athleticism, but that will change as they get more experience. But health is also an issue. Daniel Blackledge wasn't even going to play, and Michael Willis looked a little slow out there. Even Frischnecht at TE wasn't himself. So it's hard to blame Rogers when his supporting cast couldn't pick him up.
So, that's about it. What will YOU take from this one? I think the biggest thing I'm going to take is big-picture, in that unlike last year, these guys didn't quit. Remember the Oregon game last year? They laid down after a rough start. Not only would those field goals have been TD's on last year's defense, but it would have been a full four quarters of pain. We cut it to 18-6, but then they stole the MO right back with the kickoff return for TD. We drive down the field and score another TD, but then they would respond after a short kickoff. But the fact that they fought back off the mat is just such a great sign for what is to come. The offense ground out two long, impressive drives in the second half to make it interesting, and most of all showed improvement as the game went on. Coach Wulff has to be happy that they responded to adversity instead of taking the afternoon off.
I won't link to a bunch of WSU stuff, as you know where it is and how to find it. However, there was this notebook from the Times in regards to the young line showing some promise. Steve Kelley had this good look at Rogers, highlighting the issues he had to deal with for his first-ever start.
Finally, around the conference. PEEEEE-UW! I can't believe UW was only down 14-10 at the half. 30 unanswered points later and it's a 44-10 wipeout that has fans going ballistic. I guess if it was year four of the Wulff regime, and we were embarrassed like that, well, it would be hard not to be pissed if you are a UW fan right about now. The fact Oregon got it done with brand new QB's after Roper went down with a concussion has to make it all the worse. But Jake Locker can only do so much, and yep, those young skill guys sure looked young. And truth be told, Locker wasn't 100%. He looked gassed at times, even tapping his helmet after a few plays to signal to the sideline to please call a regular running play. We heard a rumor that his hammy was far less than 100%, and has been an ongoing issue for him this summer, and it showed last night.
USC, jeez. Just when you think they might have some issues on offense, Mark Sanchez goes bananas in the 52-7 humiliation at Virginia. As they said on ESPN, he was making NFL-type throws and his WR's were doing their part. And that defense, forget about it. Might as well clear the calendar for a BCS bowl, yet again.
ARIZONA 70, IDAHO ZERO!?!? HOLY TOLEDO. Idaho was outgained 521-112 for the entire game? I would have thought the Vandals could keep it close, but hide the women and children.
Cal had a wild one, holding on 38-31 in a real offensive show. The QB controversy has to be officially dead though, as Kevin Riley was far superior to Nate Longshore. Cal's running game is going to be a chore next week, too, Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen both going over 100 yards.
Finally, ASU sleep-walked through a 30-13 game that was far closer on the scoreboard. It was 30-3 in the third quarter. Rudy was on fire early, completing a school-record first 13 throws on the way to a big 388-yard night.
Enjoy your weekend, and GO COUGS!