Cougs could see repeat at Utah, with a twist

SPOKANE -- Coming off what was widely considered Washington State's best effort of the season at Stanford, linebackers coach Jeff Choate hinted to the Spokane Cougar Club luncheon on Monday that the Cougs may be turning the corner. And that theory will be tested this week at Utah, who may try much of the same things Stanford did on offense -- but with a twist.

First, Jeff Choate said he did not think the team's defensive unit could have possibly played much better against Stanford..

"With the exception of one player and one play," he noted, referring to a blown call by safety Tyree Toomer – a missed corner blitz call that resulted in Josh Nunes' 70-yard touchdown pass to a ridiculously open Jamal Rashad-Patterson in the first half. "That was a kid who was in there (as a substitute). He just missed the call. I would like to think that someone would have said something to him when they saw he was out of position."

Choate hinted that the Cougars may be turning the corner in their 2-6 season heading into Saturday's game in Salt Lake City against Utah.

"For the first time I think this group really felt they were going to win this game," he said. "That's not a new feeling to me because I feel we're going to win every game, but for these guys that's a big step. It shows how the culture is changing."

He showed game film of a number of offensive plays, but made special note of two from the Cougars' final drive: the 42-yard Jeff Tuel-to-Marquess Wilson and the clutch fourth-and-21 completion to Bobby Ratliff that gave the Cougars a first-down at the Stanford nine-yard line.

"You just don't make plays like that on fourth-and-21 and then don't go on and win the football game," he said.

CHOATE ALSO TALKED at length about the play of the defense.

"We're one layer deep for the most part – we're thin," he said. "For the most part, we're playing with about 22 guys on defense right now."

The game plan going into the game against Stanford, he explained, was to stop the run.

"We made the decision to just go ahead and load up against the run and force (Stanford) to beat us with their outside receivers," he said. "They hadn't shown that they were able to consistently do that because their best receivers are their tight ends.

"The other thing we did is that we had Travis Long play middle linebacker. We're a better team when he's playing linebacker than we are when he's playing defensive end."

CHOATE SAID THE play of linebacker Cyrus Coen, too, was key to the success the defense had in stopping the Stanford ground game – and he pointed to a pair of plays to illustrate the point. In the first, Coen took on the block of 300-pound Cardinal offensive lineman and put the bigger player on his back.

"I think that was my favorite play of the game," he said.

In the second, Coen successfully took on two Cardinal blockers on a sweep that resulted in a tackle for a loss.

"Stanford always knows where everyone is, so if you can step up and take on two blockers, that means there's someone else free to make a play," said Choate.

SATURDAY'S OPPONENT, Utah, poses a new series of challenges, said Choate, who came to WSU from Boise State.

"I've had the opportunity to face Utah a number of times and I know a lot of the coaches there," he said. "They run the same plays that Stanford does, but they do it out of completely different alignments."

The Utes, he said, would come into the game committed to running the ball and would have the best special teams units the Cougars will face all season.

"The games they've lost have been the games where they've turned the ball over, so that's something we're going to have to watch for," said Choate.

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