Merry X-mas Cougs, and a happy holidays to you and yours. Our old pal Hooty McBoob in the photo doing the Santa Claus thing this year, complete with the Coug logo undershirt of course. As always we tip our hat Hooty's way for always rising to the occasion this time of year! Note – ever seen Santa Butch? Over the last decade or so there is a good chance that it was none other than Hooty in that holiday garb.
So I had a quick post-bowl game thought that I posted in comments the other day after the melt down, but since it's a holiday today I thought I would take the low-hanging fruit and just post most of it for your consumption….yes, it's lazy, but it's also a day off and that's just what we do on days like this. Enjoy(?):
First, it's a good thing nobody cares about minor bowl games like this and it will be quickly forgotten by the rest of the world (in fact it already has except for the typical Husky douche and his schadenfreude (sp?).
Of course, if any UW dweeb pops off, just be quick to respond "yeah, you know it reminded me a LOT of the 2012 Apple Cup…." Seriously, imagine blowing an Apple Cup in similar fashion?? That's UW, one year ago.
We laughed at them when they blew a 28-10 4th quarter lead last year, they laugh at us for blowing a 45-30 lead this year. That's the way it goes, as rivals we find ways to laugh at each other…
Anyway, one thing I couldn't agree more on with Sutra's post was the defense. I have been seriously worried about it since the Stanford game, just getting eaten alive on play action and for most of the year struggling to slow down the opposition once conference play began. But then it kind of came around after they showed pretty well at AZ with BJ Denker doing so much play action and rolling out, etc, and yet at the end of the day they did hold them to 17 points with a Heisman finalist in Ka'Deem Carey in the backfield. I sure thought we were going to get DRILLED that day, but they really played well on both sides of the ball. Then the next game they got key stops in a game they HAD to win vs. Utah, even if things got pretty interesting late in the game, but they did hold on and win the day . And the first half vs. UW was promising with a decent push up front and some big takeaways as well.
But for most of the conference schedule we were way too inconsistent on the defensive line, lacking a serious speed element rushing the passer, and the back seven looked slow and quite honestly, not too well coached in terms of blown assignments and such. I think we all could understand and even expect huge busted coverage type plays if there were a bunch of frosh and soph's back there, but that just wasn't the case with four seniors starting for most of the season anyway. Even vs. CSU there were a couple of times where either linebackers didn't drop deep enough for coverage, and/or they forgot the safety wasn't back there to help, etc. The communication issues that were cited earlier this season when the team hit the roughest spot in the schedule seemed to resurface, even this late in the year.
We do hear good things about some of the youth on D that we will see next year, and the best part is often times youth is OK on the defensive side of the ball because it's more about speed and athleticism vs. complicated schemes. There will be growing pains for sure but we might be really happy by what we see on that side of the ball by the time the conference schedule really heats up (and I don't know about you but I am NOT scared of Rutgers or Nevada, and we very well could be 3-0 in non-conference).
The offense is extremely encouraging yet also frustrating in the same breath, if that's even possible. The yards and TD's were great, but came with a boatload of INT's and mistakes/clock management issues that you really wouldn't expect from a RS junior QB this late in the year. But same as some of the mistakes with the defense – they are still kids, not robots, and well, shit happens with 18-22 year olds and trying to figure out what they are going to do on a weekly basis!
What's encouraging though is WHO/WHAT is coming back on O next year. It's crazy to even think about it, but we actually return 100 PERCENT of the offense next season. Meaning every single offensive player who ran it, caught it or threw it in a game in 2013 is back next year, all with a season of game reps under their belts playing together. They've been to huge stadiums on the road as underdogs and performed well (Auburn and USC), they've won close games on the road and also at home (SC, AZ and Utah), and they even blew out a conference opponent (CAL). So they've kind of seen it all in just one year together. How many times can a team say they are returning every player who had a touch in a game from the prior year? Seriously, ask yourself how can that not be encouraging??
Where I wonder though is just how much better they can actually be. Will Halliday improve on the back-breaking INT's? After leading the nation in that category for the first 7 games of the year, he did throw "just" 5 in his last 5 games, compared to 16 TD's. I don't know if it was a change schematically in that they emphasized the check downs and flare outs to the backs more often to keep things simple or what, but even the biggest Halliday hater can agree that he showed improvement the last part of the year. And obviously he will throw INT's, it's just going to happen in this offense when you throw it that much, but the key for 2014 is can they avoid that horrible mistake at the worst time? Or have we see the absolute ceiling on Halliday and that it won't get any better, even with 100% of the offense returning for another year next year?
One thing I'd really like to see out of Halliday is about 5-10 more lbs – at least – on that 6-4 frame. He would do himself a major service if he started to eat 5,000 calories a day to add the weight and give him a better shot at dealing with the weekly beatings that is Pac-12 football. It might help his draft stock too, because while he survived/thrived this year, he's dealt with a lot of hits with still a year to go in Pullman. Having another full season where he doesn't get hurt could open some NFL eyes to what he might be able to do at the next level? Of course accuracy and decision making are gigantic for the next level and you know NFL personnel will be watching him closely next season, and there is no question he has some improving to do if he wants to play on Sundays. He's got that end zone corner/fade pass down pat, and he throws about as nice a sideline ball that you will see, but at least adding some LBS can only help at this point.
The other issue on O is the O-line, as in 3 starters are seniors, from the center out to right tackle. So essentially you are replacing the right side of the line. They are reportedly excited about what they have coming in with some big dudes who redshirted, but they haven't proven a damn thing yet in an actual game. Maybe they will be better in terms of run blocking with the new faces but it's pretty hard to predict right now how it will all shake out. Hopefully they get the kinks and major mistakes out of the way early in the year, and are ready to go by the time conference play begins.
In the end though the Leach Haters will pitch their tents on this ugly ending to the bowl loss and use it as fuel for their fire. I don't hate Leach, although he does become tiresome at times…but I am extremely disappointed for his not outright owning the end of game issues in the press conference when it came down to the clock management, and for blowing off Bud Nameck from the radio interview. What were they doing having Halliday run a read option, where he's kept it like what, maybe 5 times all season? And why did they snap it with 20+ seconds on the play clock on 2nd and 8 after the Halliday fumble on the read option was overturned? The handing it off to your short yardage back in Laufasa wasn't a terrible decision, and the odds were long that a fumble was going to happen, but why didn't he just go down instead of try to fight for a few extra yards, even with both arms wrapped around the ball? And even back on the prior kickoff, Teondary Caldwell looked to have just dived down to the turf to keep things safe with the team up 8 points, yet in a tie game with 33 seconds left he tries to make something happen and fumbles?? Ugh.
Anyway, I should be careful about overly judging Mike Leach. There is what we see in the press, and there is what happens in private and obviously those can be two very different things. We don't know what went on behind closed doors after that bowl game loss, but I truly hope he did what great leaders are supposed to do in those moments, and that's keep everyone together and use it as a learning moment for EVERYONE, HEAD COACH & COACHING STAFF INCLUDED!
I would hope he is better than that but I guess the old saying is true – in terms of extreme crisis or stress, you often times find out who people really are. It's in those moments that you see their true colors, as the mask comes off from what you normally show the rest of the world and it's a pure emotional reaction to the moment. Like everyone else, I want Leach to be a great leader of young men and also a brilliant X's/O's guy all at the same time, and he's paid a lot of money to do what he does. His players have done well academically under Leach and those who weren't/aren't buying in have been shown the door or a given a nice seat on the bench. In just his second year after inheriting a team that went 9-40 before his arrival, he got the program to the postseason and was moments away from 7 wins.
He's not perfect, far from it in fact, and he will make mistakes going forward just like anyone else in every profession imaginable. But I think it would be an easier thing on everyone if he would just own his mistakes, that's all. If he had come right out in the press conference and said "You know what? I made a mistake on that last possession, we should have run a lot more time down on 2nd and 8 and then even taken a knee on 3rd down, run the clock down to about 30 seconds or so on 4th down and punted it back, making them have to go the length of the field with no timeouts down 8 points". As a fan, I was just as upset as everyone else when it happened, but it's like when your child screws up royally. Wouldn't you rather just have them admit to the mistake so everyone can move on from it and learn from it instead of ignoring it or flat-out denying there was a problem? It's OK to be wrong or make a mistake, it really is! But the best thing is to deal with the mistake the right way and move forward from it, not dwell on the past.
So that's it for now. Again, Merry X-mas and happy holidays to you and yours! And of course, GO COUGS!