The Cougars took on a beatable Power 5 foe in Seattle, and lost. It was a game that many Cougar faithful, myself included, expected the team to win…and to beat the spread. As CougCenter’s Jeff Collier put it, the defense never really showed up and the offense took a while to get going. This game provided a lot of thrills, and a lot of “not again“, moments for Coug fans; but by and large the last Seattle Game was like the previous 11 ones…a major disappointment.
Washington State had a four point lead with just over seven minutes to go, and Rutgers punting the ball from inside their own 20-yard line. The Cougar defense managed to get to force a three-and-out, and Rutgers third punt of the game, to get the ball back to the offense. Until normally sure-handed WR River Cracraft muffed the punt during the return, Rutgers recovered the fumbled ball. Rutgers followed up the fumble recovery by marching down the field to score (what turned out to be) the game winning touchdown.
Rutgers didn’t burn the remaining seven minutes of the clock during that touchdown drive — the drive was just over three minutes and 49 seconds long — but the Cougar offense was unable to even score a field goal, and the Scarlet Knights left Century Link Field with a win.
The biggest problem that Washington State faced on Thursday, was the fact that the defense couldn’t stop a wet paper bag. WSU allowed Rutgers starting QB Gary Nova — aka Gary Tur-Nova — to average 10.4 yards per attempt,while only forcing one turnover…an interception late in the first quarter.
If the Cougar secondary couldn’t stop a QB known for making turnovers out of nothing, then the conference schedule is going to be just brutal for this defense.
That being said, while the defense’s inability to hamper the Scarlet Knight passing attack was disappointing…it was kind of expected; after all, the secondary is mostly underclassmen with very little to no game experience. What was extremely disappointing was the front seven’s in ability to read the cutbacks from Rutgers starting RB Paul James — James finished the night with 29 carries, 173 yards (6.0 yards per carry), and three touchdowns; the front seven is the most experienced group of players on the defense, but they looked like overwhelmed underclassmen throughout the game.
The defense is going to need to improve, and improve quickly if the Cougs are going to have a chance at getting back to a bowl game this season.
The worst part about this loss is that the defense’s epic failures have hidden the Cougar offense’s nearly flawless execution of the Air Raid. Washington State starting QB Connor Halliday showed that he has a really good grasp of the system as the majority of the plays run were the plays best suited to attack the Rutgers secondary. Halliday made the correct decisions throughout the game, but it was either bad passes or a dropped catches that led to the incompleteions.
Halliday averaged 9.5 yards an attempt, and completed 71.4% of his passes; his line on the night was: 40-56, 532 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT. The fact that Halliday put up that line, despite being under pressure all night, is an incredible accomplishment that should make Coug fans excited about how he is going to perform this season.
Unfortunately though, any excitement for Halliday’s upcoming season is going to be overshadowed about the defenses weaknesses…and how that is going to impact the ability of Cougar football to get back to a bowl game.