FOR COLONEL Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, it was the smell of napalm in the morning that he loved. “It smelled like ... victory,” he said. For me, it’s the sight of statistics. And when I look at what Marquess Wilson is doing this season, I too smell victory. Of the 56 receivers in the nation who have 30 grabs or more, Marquess is numero uno in yards per catch. He's averaging 18.5 on every touch.
That's not just glossy, it's damn near tear inducing when you think how sluggish this Cougar offense was in 2008 and '09.
For the year, Wilson has 35 catches (tied for first on the team with Jared Karstetter) that have covered a whopping 646 yards -- which ranks him No. 14 in the land in yards per game at 92.29. This kid from Tulare (California) obviously is a super talent.
But get this: The buzz around the Bohler Complex is that fellow freshman wideout Kristoff Williams, who has been forced to redshirt this year because of a nasty bout with turf toe, is as talented as Wilson is.
You want to talk about head turning. Next year’s receiving corps -- led by Wilson, Williams, Karsetter, Isiah Barton and Gino Simone -- could be the second coming of the legendary Fab Five of 1997.
But back to Wilson's jumbo-sized yards-per-catch average for a moment. While monstrous, it's still far behind the WSU single-season record of 25.9 per catch set by Fab Fiver Nian Taylor in 1997, and just a shade behind the career average of 19.6 set by WSU Hall of Famer Gail Cogdill between 1957-59.
HERE’S ANOTHER STATISTIC that tells me things are looking up at Ol’ Wazzu. The Cougars are the least penalized team in the Pac-10 and one of the least penalized in the nation. They’ve been flagged 37 times this season for an average of 48 yards per game. I’ve been around the Cougar Nation for a long time and can’t ever remember a time when WSU wasn’t among the most-flagged teams in the Pac.
That tells me that technique and discipline are on the rise.
All is not rosy on the stat front for the Cougs, however.
While the numbers are pretty much across-the-board better in all phases, WSU is last or near last in many of the major categories. The one that stands out most is sacks allowed. The Cougs have surrendered 29 this season. Not only is that the worst in the Pac-10, but it’s nearly the worst in the entire nation. The Cougs give up an average of 4.4 sacks per game, ranking them No. 119 in the country, one spot behind Idaho and one spot ahead of last place Rutgers.
With the Cougars' starting left tackle, David Gonzales, out for the season with a broken arm, I fear that the sacking trend will continue. That’s no jab at true freshman John Fullington, who will take over at LT, but a nod to the reality of losing the guy who has been protecting Tuel’s blind side since Day One. On the other hand, my sense is that Tuel himself is developing much greater pocket awareness. He was looking pretty shaky in that department earlier in the season. Improved pocket presence should mean the sacks that he’s responsible for will decrease.
ANOTHER STAT THAT I like to look at is point spread. The oddsmakers continue to make the Cougs gigantic underdogs every week. Stanford (5-1), whom the Cougs face Saturday at 2 p.m. on Fox College Sports, has been installed as a 34-point favorite. If I were a betting man, I’d put money on the Cougs to cover. They’ve beat the point spread three straight games, and four of the last five.
Still, there's one little statistical fact that gives me some pause. Stanford's offense is averaging a pulse-racing 43 points per game (fifth best in the nation), while the Cougar D is giving up an average of 40 points per game -- a tale of woe that ranks No. 118 out of the 120 schools in Division I-A.
Stanford will be the third consecutive team WSU has faced in the top 20. Oregon was No. 3, Arizona No. 17 and Stanford is No. 12. It's been 35 years since that type of string happened for WSU. In 1974, the Cougs played back-to-back-back against No. 16 Illinois, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 7 USC. The Cougs lost all three, but that one to the Illini was a nailbiter that went down to the last snap of the game.
IN THE HOW 'BOUT THEM COUGS category comes this little nugget to put a smile on your face. Yesterday evening CF.C put a link on the football message board to an ESPN.com poll asking fans to rate the Pac-10 quarterbacks 1 through 10. Within hours Jeff Tuel rocketed by Ryan Katz and Jake Locker into fifth place, just behind Nick Foles. Tellingly, Tuel had the second-most first-place votes -- 132 to Andre Luck's 168. No one else had more than 27 first-place votes.