Despite start, Cougars have hope
Notebook: Wildcats facing tough road; Utah hopes for upset
There’s no experience quite like a meteor shower, watching bright flashes of light streak across the sky. Watching Washington State football is a similar experience only the flashes are brief and the light quickly fizzles. Fans wait patiently to be dazzled once more without an inkling of when that time will come.
The low points show helplessness, frustration and defeat.
But there are those bright flashes and, boy, are they bright. Connor Halliday is a gunslinger type of quarterback, whose high points are electrifying and awe-inspiring; and the lows leave heads lying in hands.
Marquess Wilson is one of the best receivers in college football. Gabe Marks is well on his way to being a star, as well. Ioane Gauta brings down ball carriers and has a nose for the football. Deone Buchanon is a tenacious defensive back who certainly knows how to hit.
There are pieces to the Washington State puzzle and the administration has left it to Mike Leach to put those pieces together. The Cougars are in the process of regaining the prowess once held by Rose Bowl teams of old.
"I think we're getting better," Leach said Monday, two days after a 51-26 defeat to No. 2 Oregon. "We've still got a long way to go."
And despite a 2-3 start to the 2012 campaign, there is hope for the Cougars. They can find that hope in the flashes of excellence such as Wilson’s 182 yards on the Ducks. They can find hope in the fact that they held Oregon to its slimmest halftime lead this season.
"We battled away," Leach said Saturday. "Some of our field goals should have been touchdowns. We gave them two relatively easy touchdowns early. I think if we played with more control, we wouldn’t have. We played pretty courageously throughout the rest of it.”
There are sparks in Wazzou just waiting to burst into burgeoning flame. Leach holds the fuel to that fire and feeds it at a steady pace, patiently waiting for something to catch.
Arizona (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12)
• Schedulers did not do Arizona any favors. After what seemed like a promising 3-0 start, the Wildcats have lost their last two games against Oregon and Oregon State. Next, they travel to Palo Alto to face No. 18 Stanford. After an idle week, Arizona drew No. 23 Washington, No. 13 Southern Cal and No. 25 UCLA in that order. That isn’t quite the warm Pac-12 welcome head coach Rich Rodriguez would have preferred.
• The good news in the Wildcats’ loss to Oregon State on Saturday is they rediscovered the end zone after being shut out by Oregon in Week 4. Arizona’s first touchdown came late in the second quarter. That was the ‘Cats’ first touchdown in almost six quarters of action. That won’t build the confidence needed to compete in the Pac-12.
Next Game: at No. 18 Stanford Oct. 6
Arizona State (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12)
• The Sun Devils enter their idle week at 4-1 yet completely off the radar, their only loss coming by four points to Missouri. Taylor Kelly and Marion Grice aren’t receiving Heisman attention any time soon and yet here is Arizona State with the second-best record in the Pac-12.
• Will Sutton has a spot reserved for him on Sundays. One of the best defensive tackles in the nation, Sutton had a field day against a weak California offensive line. He racked up four tackles for loss including two sacks. He also forced a fumble.
• Arizona State has Colorado as a final tune-up after an idle week before heading home to square off with Oregon, it’s toughest opponent to date.
Next Game: at Colorado Oct. 11
California (1-4, 0-2 Pac-12)
• Head coach Jeff Tedford knows his team's success hinges on its offensive line, something that has become more like swinging saloon doors as of late, particularly last Saturday in a 27-17 loss to Arizona State.
“There were some plays we could have hit,” Tedford said, “but [quarterback Zach Maynard] is also under a lot of duress. We have to give him more time to throw the football.”
The Arizona State defense sacked Maynard seven times Saturday.
• Again, the Bears’ running game excelled to the highest degree. Isi Sofele is likely the fastest person on the field at any given point and it showed when he burst a 24-yard touchdown run in the second quarter Saturday.
Bears running backs racked up 185 yards on the ground.
• Cal has a long road ahead with its idle week not coming until the final week of the season.
Next Game: vs. No. 25 UCLA Oct. 6
Colorado (1-4, 1-1 Pac-12)
• The “heart of the Buffalo” must have been lost on the road back to Boulder after the Buffs took down Washington State in Week 4. Although Jordan Webb did not have a horrible game against UCLA – he overcame his completion percentage problem, completing nearly 66 percent of his passes – he did little to take Colorado to that next level.
• “We’re growing up,” head coach Jon Embree said. “We don’t have a lot to show for it, but we have taken strides. There were tears in the locker room, and guys still care and are still competing and fighting.” Unfortunately for the Buffs, competing and fighting does not put points on the board. At a certain point, the silver lining peels away and teams are left clawing for execution. Colorado is at that point.
Next Game: vs. Arizona State Oct. 11
No. 2 Oregon (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12)
• Marcus Mariota is not invincible. He made a few mistakes against Washington State, throwing into heavy coverage a few times when he probably should have eaten the down by taking a sack or throwing the ball away. Those mistakes against a defense like the Cougars’ – now notorious for giving up leads – won’t work down the homestretch against the Ducks’ toughest opponents.
• Oregon has a pesky opponent approaching in Washington, as evidenced by the Huskies’ victory against Stanford on Thursday. Although the Cardinal and the Ducks play completely different styles, the Ducks cannot afford let their guard down. Oregon must score to keep the Huskies down. When the Huskies get down early, their confidence easily wavers.
Next Game: vs. No. 23 Washington Oct. 6
Oregon State (3-0, 2-0 Pac-12)
• Oregon State further proved its anamorphic playing style in its defeat of Arizona on Saturday. Quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 433 yards and running back Storm Woods added 161 on the ground. The offensive ability helped the Beavers topple a Wildcats team averaging nearly 550 yards of total offense per game.
• At this point, who knows what to expect from Oregon State come Week 6 other than the team being in the game? The Beavers host Washington State and could give the Cougars fits with unpredictability. Although, it did take a late touchdown from Mannion for Oregon State to win Saturday, so they must try to stay out of similar situations. Washington State has the ability to put points up quick with long pass plays, so the Beavers need to work to stay out of an early hole.
Next Game: at Washington State Oct. 6
No. 13 Southern Cal (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12)
• The Trojans have a quick start against Utah Thursday after being idle in Week 5. Thus begins “season two” for USC who needs to put its best foot forward with a convincing win against the much weaker Utes. This sets the tone for the rest of the Trojans’ season. Will they be the dominant team folks expected, putting teams away with ease? Or will they be the Trojans folks saw in the past four weeks, struggling against arguably weaker opponents?
Next Game: at Utah Oct. 4
No. 8 Stanford (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12)
• And yet another Pac-12 team returns to Earth after being (probably prematurely) thrust into generous standing with the Associated Press. Stanford beat Southern Cal, yes, but not convincingly. As mentioned in last week’s notebook, nothing was spectacular about Stanford’s victory save the defense’s shutting down Matt Barkley. Yet, against Washington, the Cardinal’s less-than-spectacular offense let them down. Despite holding the Huskies to 17 points, Stanford could not score when they had the ball – its only touchdown coming on an interception return. Josh Nunes struggled mightily to get anything going and Stepfan Taylor was held to 75 yards.
• With a lackluster performance this season, Nunes is fading back into the shadows of Cardinal football. The splash page of Stanford’s athletics website offers fans an Andrew Luck bobblehead with a ticket package. Not exactly what Nunes had in mind. He needs an eye-popping performance to earn fans’ trust. Stanford’s next game against Arizona provides the stage for just that.
Next Game: vs. Arizona Oct. 6
UCLA (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12)
• The Bruins played relatively blemish-free football to get back to their winning ways Saturday against Colorado. Brett Hundley completed 66 percent of his passes without an interception. Johnathan Franklin rushed for 115 yards. UCLA had just one flub, a fumble by Hundley after being sacked on second-and-long.
• “Football is football,” Hundley said , “and you’ve got to have fun at what you’re doing out there. You’ve got to come out, play and have fun and play fast.” Playing fast is what the Bruins do best and cranking up the tempo is how they will run with the thick of the competition in the Pac-12.
• UCLA has a shot to be sitting pretty come its idle week. The Bruins can easily finish 6-1 before Week 8 with games coming up against Cal and Utah. That would put Jim Mora’s squad in prime position to compete for a Pac-12 title down the homestretch.
Next Game: at California Oct. 6
Utah (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12)
• To say the Utes have a difficult start after a bye week would be a tremendous understatement. Three opponents ranked in the AP Top 25 eagerly await the Utes starting with Southern Cal in Week 6. They follow up with trips to Los Angeles to tango with UCLA and then head north to Corvallis for a matchup with Oregon State. All Utah can hope for is to compete and perhaps squeeze out an upset in the coming weeks. Otherwise, the Utes face a 2-5 record threatening their bowl prospects.
• History does seem to favor head coach Kyle Wittingham and Utah heading into their Thursday matchup with USC. Whittingham is 6-1 coming off regular-season byes, with his only loss coming last season against Washington. Whittingham's post-bye victories came over Wyoming (2005, 2007), Colorado State (2006, 2009), New Mexico (2008) and Iowa State (2010). Also, Utah's record in Thursday games is 53-25-5 and the Utes have won eight in a row since losing on a Thursday at Oregon State in 2007.
Next Game: vs. Southern Cal Oct. 4
Washington (3-1, 1-0 Pac-12)
• The Huskies recovered nicely after the defeat they suffered at the hands of No. 3 LSU. It is their job to avoid having to do the same after Week 6’s contest with Oregon. The Ducks feature an offense far more potent than Stanford – and LSU for that matter – so the Washington defense must be at its very best. The Huskies forced Stanford's Josh Nunes into a sub-50 percent completion percentage and an interception, but the freshman Marcus Mariota is difficult to rattle. As mentioned, however, he does make mistakes when under pressure. If Washington can get to Mariota early, they could have a shot.
• At the very least, the Huskies must hope to compete with Oregon. After the loss to LSU, they had a soft landing in Portland State waiting for them the following week. After the Week 6 matchup with Oregon the Huskies drew Southern Cal. Two merciless defeats at the hands of top-tier conference opponents won’t help the confidence of the recently-ranked Huskies.
Next Game: at Oregon Oct. 6
Washington State (2-3, 0-2 Pac-12)
• First, may we recognize Marquess Wilson for becoming the all-time leading receiver in Washington State history, passing Brandon Gibson. Wilson finished the Oregon game Saturday with 182 yards and a touchdown, putting him in the record books with 2,893 career receiving yards and counting.
• As with Cal and Colorado, soon enough the silver lining peels away and “moral victory” is a dirty phrase. At a certain point, teams like Washington State become hungry and desperate for victory. Mike Leach, as much as, if not more than anyone else hates to lose.
• Ignoring previous statements about silver linings, the good news for Wazzou is its toughest opponent of the season is out of the way. The road does not get all too much easier for the Cougars, but they will have chances for wins down the line against Cal and Utah. Add in an upset victory against one of their remaining ranked opponents and it could spell a decent end result for a troubled team.
Next Game: at Oregon State Oct. 6