I think they call this a "run"?
Happy Sunday Cougs, and what a great Sunday morning it is around the great NW! For the Cougs did something that only the true die-hards thought they would do yesterday, and that's go out on the road against a decent Pac-12 foe and get a W. In what can only be described as a "must win" scenario, the Cougs need to at least get to 6 wins this season and then let the chips fall where they may in terms of bowl eligibility. But yesterday was just huge, and there are many ways to look at it…..
First, let me jump up and down and scream it a million times 'til my face is crimson – I WAS EFFING WRONG ABOUT YESTERDAY!!!! That's right, those of you who still hang around this here blog as the season winds down will know that on Thursday, I picked WSU not only to lose, but lose BIG – as in 56-27 big. I thought based on the recent body of work vs. OSU, Oregon and ASU, that this game would be a repeat performance with an uneven, discombobulated performance on offense paired with an overwhelmed, confused defense that looked like it had never seen the read option offense before. But boy, was I wrong, wrong, WRONG.
So to my favorite college team, the school I once attended in Pullman? I'm sorry one of your own picked against you. You rubbed my nose it in yesterday, and I deserved every second of it. But it's the sweetest of sweet when you are wrong, yet things turn out the best possible way you could have hoped for. So THANK YOU COUGS for kicking ass yesterday and making me look like the idiot I am when it comes to picking games!
That out of the way, some quick takes from yesterday:
1) How 'bout that running game? After spending the last several weeks (or was it months??) severely doubting the Air Raid approach of only throwing it, it was a great display on Saturday with the way they mixed in the running game against the 3-3-5 defense of AZ. 101 yards rushing isn't usually much to write home about, but when it's roughly double your season average, well, it's OK to get a little nuts! Marcus Mason averaged 5.7 YPC, while Teondray Caldwell was even better at 6.7 YPC, as the backs brought their A-game this day.
But it wasn't just the running backs. The offensive line was doing a decent job opening up the holes up front, and you could see that Connor Halliday was much more willing to check into the runs when things looked like they were going to be there (more on Halliday in a moment). But for the first in a while, maybe since the Auburn game, you could see how the run can in fact be a legit asset to this offense when the opportunities presented themselves.
2) The D brought their A game as well. While giving up almost 200 yards rushing isn't usually a big deal? Well, yesterday it was, for AZ might normally get that total by halftime against some foes this year. The Mildcats average nearly 264 yards per game on the ground, and so it wasn't too hard to think they would top 300 against the Cougs and the D's struggle vs. the read option of late. But aside from a Ka'Deem Carey 30-yard TD run, the D would go on to keep him in check with 25 carries for 102 yards on his other attempts.
But as Curtis Conway said after the game on the Pac-12 network, Ka'Deem Carey is going to get his yards no matter who he's playing. The key to beating AZ would be to try and limit him somewhat, but make sure you can shut down Denker and that play-action passing game. And while Denker did have an efficient game, going 26-for-38 through the air, he threw for only 200 yards passing on the day (And by the way, anyone enjoying the work of Curtis Conway and Rick Neuheisel on the Pac-12 Network? I think they are very good at what they do in the studio and they seem to get better every week. Jeremy Bloom is a "face" man who likes to smile and look in the camera about 95% of the time, but even he is OK in small doses. But I have to admit I enjoy both Conway and Neuheisel).
But maybe the most important thing the D did was getting AZ off the field on 3rd down! The Cougs held them to 6-for-18 on the day on 3rd downs, and when you can hold your opponent to 33% on 3rd down opportunities you are definitely doing your job. And in the end, holding AZ to 395 yards and 17 points when they normally average 452 and 33 points per game?? That's an excellent day for the D and they sure looked like the team we hoped they would be going back to the Cal victory in September!
3) Finally, Connor Halliday – At least for a day anyway, the Halliday Haters can at least keep a lid on it. I don't care what anyone says to the contrary, but I thought #12 had his best game at WSU since the ASU debut in 2011. 39-for-53 with a couple of TD's, and even the 1 INT can be argued that it was a horrible missed PI call that should have gone against the Wildcat D. But it wasn't just his big drive down the field to get them into the endzone with just 2+ minutes left in the game, but it was really a steady, consistent performance for four full quarters as something we have all been waiting for, know what I mean?
I wouldn't be surprised to see Halliday win conference player-of-the-week honors after a game like that. But again, he really wasn't a roller-coaster type player yesterday. He just kind of stayed within himself, throwing it away or even taking a sack when the situation warranted it vs. trying to do too much. And even when AZ did some things to try and eliminate Gabe Marks and his impact on the WSU offense (0 catches for our leading receiver), Halliday didn't panic or try to force it in when the plays weren't there to be made. He took what was presented to him and as a QB, made some excellent decisions and still completed passes to 11 different players, none named Gabe Marks.
To wrap this all up, I think that most of all I will take away from this game that on offense anyway, this is how this thing is SUPPOSED to look? Going back to Mike Leach's best seasons, the common thread was that he at least had a semblance of a running game at Tech to keep things honest but also had really efficient performances at QB with players who took what was given to them vs. trying to do too much.
So, was yesterday a corner-turning moment for this program? Getting to 5-5 this late is a great step forward after such a disappointing stretch and a possible post-season appearance seemed to evaporate. But has Halliday finally figured out that his best possible contributions is to not try and be the hero, and instead playing within the system and doing everything he can to get that ball out to his playmakers? Yesterday was great and all but it was, well, yesterday. Go out and lay an egg vs. Utah and on the road at UW and we're right back to where we were for a big chunk of this season, pretty much doubting and over analyzing anything and everything. But I think even the biggest haters can all agree that the victory over AZ was seriously promising about what that game meant and even better, what might still be to come down the road.
Oh yeah, one last thing:
I didn't know who Megan Coghlan was before the game, and I probably won't follow her work down the road. But I would imagine she learned an awfully valuable lesson – DON'T TROLL A FOOTBALL TEAM AND THE ENTIRE FAN BASE THE DAY BEFORE YOU PLAY THEM ON THE FIELD!
All for now. ENJOY the rest of your Sunday, and of course GO COUGS!