SPOKANE -- For the second straight week, the Cougar defensive line and linebackers played solid against the run for the vast majority of the game. Considering the Utah line averages about 315 pounds and about 23 years old across the front, could that bode well for WSU against a tough back this week in the Apple Cup?
We’ll see. But Alex Hoffman-Ellis, Aaron Coerper, Chester Sua and Damante Horton all came up large on several plays against Utah, as Paul Wulff illustrated this week in Spokane.
The defense recovered two fumbles, one forced by great hits by Toomer and Locker on the Utah running back. The only real failure came following WSU’s reverse pass TD that made the score 20-17. The film shows the running back on a dive which the two Coug tackles have completely dammed up, and so he bounces left. Sua, a true freshman, broke through on a blitz and hit White two yards deep in the backfield, bit not square. White puts on an excellent spin move before Sua can get him wrapped up and proceeds to tightwalk the sideline and score.
The defensive backs had a decent day but had some opportunities slip through their hands. Tyree Toomer was in position to intercept a pass but was not able to gain control of it. Nolan Washington was on the losing end of a pass interference penalty, and a head scratcher of a call, when the receiver appears to run over Nolan while he was in position behind the receiver.
Special teams were adequate, with one major gaffe. The fake punt Utah converted into a TD was a play the Cougs had practiced against. WSU’s defense even stayed on the field because the ball was in a position where a fake punt might occur. The play they ran was kind of like the old ‘tackle eligible play’. Generally, Player A is on the line in a tight end configuration. He is covered up by the outside gunner(B) who is also on the line, thus A is not an eligible receiver. The inside backer, Hoffman-Ellis was supposed to read the position of A. If he is off the line, the alarm is sounded to cover the now eligible man. On this play, A is off the line, but his position was not recognized by the defense. The flow goes away from the play and A was wide open for the pass.
Bright spot on special teams -- Eric Ortel on the kick cover team and Marcus Mason, who showed great patience and then turned on the afterburners on one return. One man caught his leg. Then came ‘the’ play.
There were several big plays by the younger Cougs. Wulff commented that the reverse pass play best exhibits this. The sequence:
First year sophomore center Matt Goetz snaps to second year frosh Connor Halliday, who hands to a second year frosh Rickey Galvin, who flips it to second year freshman Kristoff Williams, who throws a perfect spiral on the run to a second year freshman Bobby Ratliff, who scores. All this against primarily fourth and fifth year opponents.
On the Coug o-line on the play were only two seniors – David Gonzales and B.J. Guerra. The rest of the line was made up of second year freshman and third string right tackle Jake Rodgers starting his first game, second year sophomore guard John Fullington, and first year Cougar and third year sophomore Goetz.
Wulff was very proud of the way the team battled back from adversity. To come back twice from 10 down with a banged up QB shows very deep mental toughness and desire, he said. In the fourth quarter, Coerper made a stellar play, taking on and shedding a blocker, spraining his knee in the process and still lunged forward and makes the tackle.
And of course everyone knows how Halliday takes a hit in the second quarter and keeps on playing with a lacerated liver. After the injury, Halliday demonstrates his arm strength by absolutely drilling a ball between four defenders to Bennett Bontemps. Unfortunately this one was dropped. When he found his rhythm at a critical stage, Halliday was 7-13 and one TD over the last 7-plus minutes.
Finally, after the deflating 56 yard run and score by Utah, the Cougs come back to score twice to tie the game.
Offensively, there were too many dropped balls and missed routes.
After Isaiah Barton left the game with torn knee ligaments, Gino Simone, who is one of the surest handed receivers around, dropped a sure first down pass in the first half. Bontemps ran a route that should have gone straight down the left hash. Instead, he came across to the right hash dragging the safety into the path of Wilson who was running open down the seam.
Halliday was not as effective at looking off the safety as he was with ASU. On a pass play to Marquees Wilson that was similar to the sideline patterns against ASU, the safety drifted over to help out behind. Against ASU Connor froze the safety, this time not so much.