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Tough loss, tougher season

 

Well, another tough loss for our Cougs.  Things started off slowly, as Stanford ate up big chunks of yardage early and hit on some big plays.  But then the Cougs just kind of got settled in, and even cut it to a 7-point game early in the 4th quarter.  But for most of the night, I think all of you who watched it can probably come away with a similar feeling that we had around here – the Cougs hung tough, but for the most part were manhandled up front on both sides of the ball as Stanford put it away late, 34-17.  And when I say manhandled, I mean especially with the Stanford defensive line, which looks like any of them could go play in the NFL, like, any given Sunday!  But when you struggle to keep your QB upright when the opposition only needs to rush 3 or 4 to get consistent pressure, well, it’s tough to do a whole lot when 7 or more are dropping into coverage.  I mean there were plays where it looked like the Stanford defensive line was actually BLOCKING the Coug O-lineman backwards, like they were interior offensive linemen.  It was just a clinic of bull-rushing and physical prowess within the box that you have to really watch to appreciate.

I was worried about this game, not just because Stanford was ranked or had this excellent defense and all that, or that they were coming off a loss and probably pretty pissed off to get a W.  Or was I worried because the Cougs lost a heartbreaker last week in a game they should have won.  But the biggest thing watching Stanford this year wasn’t just the strong, stout D, but they actually came into this game leading the nation in fewest yards allowed after the catch.

When you think of the very basics of the Air Raid you think big plays in space ‘n such, and so much of what can make the WSU offense successful are those quick throws here and there in those pockets of space and then they suddenly break off something free for a nice gain.  So a 4-yard crossing/mesh pattern can turn in to 10-15 yards and another first down.  But we saw it from the first possession of the game when the pocket was collapsing far too quickly, that Stanford was going to bring the noise up front and when you do catch it, you aren’t going to get away.

Oh yeah, AND, when they hit you?  You are going to feel it, all the way back at home on your couch.  These guys HIT you.  And when you face an excellent, physical defense that just doesn’t miss tackles, those short gains stay short gains!

So, all that said, I guess that loss really makes postseason play aspirations at barely a flicker at this point.  At 2-5 there really isn’t a ton of hope, even if they are still 2 more losses from being mathematically eliminated (like last year, 6-6 in all likelihood gets you to a bowl again in 2014).  I know many of you who are regulars around here are real optimists, and will probably still pick the Cougs to get to 6 wins.  But I think after this game and what still lies ahead with Arizona, USC, ASU, etc, you can pretty much see the writing on the wall.

The sad part of all of this is simply this season and what it’s become.  There have been some real positives, from the immense improvement of Connor Halliday and the deep, talented WR’s, to an improving, youthful offensive line that seems to have a bright future.  But it’s also been a season of mistakes, with games they woulda/coulda/shoulda that were lost due to special teams mistakes, penalties, turnovers and the like.  And while there are some young guys in the secondary with real upside, unfortunately they are just that right now – young guys with upside.  They still keep making those brutal mistakes with being out of position in coverage at times, and there are communication issues that just come with youth.  Their ceiling is high back there with those youngsters, and you really have to believe that they will be better down the line as they take their lumps and learn from their mistakes.  But it’s tough to win when you are that inexperienced against decent teams in this conference, for they are well-coached and schemed up, and ready to make young players look, well, young.

Finally, let’s just say that I’m glad they have a bye next week.  They are going to need some extra time in the ice bath to recover from the physicality from Stanford, the toughest, most physical outfit they will face in 2014!  There is still a lot of the season left – with 5 games, still – and we know anything can still happen.  That’s why they play the games, no matter how bleak it looks right now.  Who knows, maybe they win 4 of their last 5 and we sneak into a bowl game again.  But it sure seems far away after this loss.

All for now.  Enjoy your day, and GO COUGS.

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