Hello Followers. Hope you’re doing great.
As we all know, Saturday night produced what was almost a legendary night for Cougar Football. For 56 minutes, our shining group of upstarts hung with the #2 ranked team in the country; and did so in front of a sold-out, vibrant, and beautiful Martin Stadium. And the reason they hung in the game was pretty simple: They followed my game plan nearly to the letter!
Of course, what really decided the game was the horrible no-call on a 3rd and 13 pass from Halliday to Myers in the fourth quarter.
Two days, later, I still haven’t really gotten over it.
Notwithstanding that horrible call, there were many key takeaways that could be derived from this game. So, lets list a few:
1) Halliday’s A Star
Sure, there were a couple of balls that could have been picked—and could have been returned. But when you chuck it around 63 times, complete just under 70% of your passes, throw for nearly 450 and 4 touches, and do so against a defense that is littered with NFL players (and first round draft picks), well, you’re kind of special. Moreover, just like I predicted on Friday, Halliday did so against a combination of pressure and ameba looks—oftentimes threading the needle when Oregon’s speedsters were dropping 8 into coverage. He’s really good folks—it might be a good time to start enjoying him while we still can.
2) RB’s Are Legit
A lot of us blowhards wondered a few weeks back about whether our young RB’s deserved to unseat Marcus Mason, Caldwell, and others. Well, for the past two games, we’ve seen why the coaches have been so high on Morrow and Wicks. In fact, we haven’t seen talent at the RB position like these two guys since Harrison and Ivory. And when you factor in that they’re both freshmen, well, the future looks awfully bright for the WSU backfield.
The offensive line played awfully well on Saturday night. Specifically, I thought the athleticism they showed getting downfield on those screenplays was really a site to behold. But the biggest treat was seeing that Jumbo set that we ran on 3rd and 4th and short. Not only did that set give us needed short yards in the running game, it also resulted in some nice 1 on 1 match-ups for receivers on the outside, including Halliday’s second (and gorgeous) touchdown pass to Dom Williams.
Again, when you factor in that ALL of those guys are returning next year—and that the right side of the line has at least two more years in the program, well, you can see that things are really starting to turn.
4) Run Defense
By the time the horn sounded, Oregon had gained about 175 yards rushing on 42 attempts. And while Mariota showed his magic and torched us for about 340 in the air, our run defense was surprisingly solid for the third week in a row. And the reason for that is simple: (A) We played a lot more physical across the front; (B) Our linebackers played with much more tenacity; and (C) We saw (more or less) the same scheme three weeks in a row.
Simply put, when you can stop the run in this conference, you’ve got a chance to go places. And for the first time since early last year, it looks to me like the Cougar front seven has what it takes to slow some teams down.
5) The Need for Speed
Over the past two weeks, there have been several new insertions into the line-up and each has had really positive consequences for our defense. A couple weeks ago, the positive newcomer was Charleston White—who I thought played very well in spots against Oregon. Against Portland State, that newcomer was Jeremiah Allison—who then made his first start against Oregon. And let me tell you, that young man makes a whole lot of difference. And when you take his biography into account, he’s a downright inspiration.
And then on Saturday night, we saw the debut of Sulaiman Hameed at safety. And even though there was a PI call against him that hurt us a bit, he seemed like he played very well at BOTH safety spots. In fact, when both him and Lemora were in the game together, we looked fast across the board for the first time in a really, really long time (I also thought Paulo looked A LOT quicker in that DE spot). Now, we just need to grow.
6) Rio Suave and the Gang of “Crazy Eights”
A few weeks ago, I tried to come up with a nickname for River Cracraft–not knowing that he already had one (his teammates call him “MasterCraft”). My chosen nickname for him at that time: “Rio Suave.”
After that, I tried to come up with a moniker for our entire 8-deep receiving corps. And even though it lacks fanfare, I nicknamed our gang of 8 receivers “The Crazy Eights.”
Well, on Saturday night, Rio Suave earned his namesake and showed why he’s going to play on Sundays in a couple of years. And the rest of the Crazy 8’s showed that teams are going to have to drop eight consistently if they have any hope of slowing us down. In short, when you factor in the struggles that Oregon had with us in spite of their depth and athleticism, well, the future once again is pretty bright.
Which brings me to the conclusion of this post.
Followers, winning this past Saturday would have done wonders for the morale of this program. It would have done a lot to increase the confidence of the young guys that they can compete for and win championships in the years to come. And it also probably would have been a HUGE boon to recruiting.
But for this year, I’m not sure that this loss amounts to much. And one big reason for that claim is that I truly believe that had we won on Saturday night, we would have lost this weekend in Utah. Truly, I don’t think this team was ready to rebound from that kind of success.
And so, if we win this weekend in Rice-Eccles, I think we can all look at that 1-1 conference record and know that we were probably going to be 1-1 even if we had beaten the Ducks. So, all eyes need to be placed squarely on this game again the Utes—a game which was ALWAYS the key swing game for this season.
My second conclusion from the Oregon game follows a hypothetical. Namely, if this team had found a way to have beaten Nevada and Rutgers and was sitting right now at 3-1, what would be your outlook on the year?
For me? Well, I would be thinking that our goal would be to win out. Because when you look at the schedule moving forward, there aren’t any teams that are better than the Ducks. There are no spread teams that are better than the Ducks, there are no defenses that mix speed and toughness better than the Ducks, and there is no quarterback that will come close to providing the match-up problems that Mariotta does (by the way, he might be the best that the conference has ever seen).
And so, even when you factor in the caveats about Oregon’s O-Line injuries and so forth, the fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, the Ducks played turn-over free football. Of course, we didn’t, and we were right there at the end. In other words, games that looked absolutely insurmountable a few weeks back (e.g., SC and Arizona State), while still VERY difficult, no longer seem like such impossible prospects.
So, this weekend we will hit the road to face an undefeated Utah team. And in many ways, I suspect that this game will represent the most difficult road game of the year when you factor in the altitude and the fan reaction that will accompany their 3-0 start. Win that one, and we’ll return home from a real chance at 3-3. And from there, the sky is the limit.
Mind you, I’m not predicting an outlandish finish for this year’s squad. But if I’m in the Cougar locker-room, I’m looking at the rest of the schedule and feeling pretty darn optimistic at my chances the rest of the way.
Step 1 of the return of Cougar Football was Saturday night, folks. The next big step happens this weekend in Salt Lake City.
Enjoy it folks. The rise has begun.
All for now. Go Cougs!