Amid D's meltdown, Bucannon steps up vs. USC

PULLMAN -- Perhaps hard to believe after a game in which the defense forced nary a punt and surrendered more than 600 yards, but one of the most notable individual performances for the Cougars in Saturday's loss to USC was on the defensive side of the ball. True freshman safety Deone Bucannon looks to have supplanted senior Chima Nwachukwu in the starting line up.

Bucannon saw the majority of action over Nwachukwu and took advantage of the opportunity. He led all WSU tacklers with eight total stops and hauled in his first career interception -- a goal line save that kept the Cougs within striking distance in the first half.

"We just made the change," head coach Paul Wulff said when asked if Bucannon's move to prime time was due to a Nwachukwu injury. "(When) 10 (Bucannon's jersey number) is in, there seems to be a lot of plays made. He runs well, hits well. The guy just turned 18 on August 30th, he's a good player."

But not perfect. There were several instances where Bucannon showed his immaturity. In the second half, he was completely out of position on a pass play from USC backup QB Mitch Mustain to fullback Stanley Havili. Although Bucannon had his share of mistakes, Wulff said it's all a part of the process, and he has patience in the 6-1, 186-pounder from Fairfield, Calif.

"I mean, there were some mistakes by him, we had some bootlegs that came out clean open and those were some of his responsibilities," Wulff said. "Our defense, like I said, a lot of the mistakes are just young mistakes. They're good athletes, they're just not veteran enough and we have to live with some of that sometimes right now with where we're at."

Indeed, the lasting part of this game was the plethora of missed tackles by the Cougars. The WSU defense made Swiss cheese look like granite in comparison.

In fact, the defense was so bad that one of the Cougars' great milestones of the last three years -- holding a lead on a team ranked in the top 25 -- lasted only 15 seconds. After the Cougars jumped to a 7-0 advantage on Jeffrey Solomon's 29-yard gadget pass to Jared Karstetter, USC responded with a TD on its first offensive play of the day. Havili busted through a hole, waltzed through a series of arm tackles and, just like that, the Cougars' first lead over a nationally ranked team since October 2007 (vs. Arizona State) was gone.

What often appeared to be 5-yard USC running plays were turned into 15- and 25-yard gains -- or more -- because of poor Cougar tackling.

"We told our defense and special teams all week that they're a big-play team and if you look at their plays, so much of what they do is big plays," Wulff said. "They come out in their first possession and run the ball for a touchdown, and that was some real poor tackling on our part."

The arm tackling persisted all day long. There were several different opportunities where the Cougar D-line was able to pressure starting USC QB Matt Barkely but not wrap him up for the sack.

The big beneficairy of WSU's defensive woes was the 6-1, 225-pound Havili. He had 161 combined rushing and receiving yards in the first half on only 7 touches. A monumental percentage of those yards came after first contact. He finished with 187 total yards and two touchdowns.

"The biggest issue in the second half is we couldn't stop the big play early and we didn't tackle very well today, period," Wulff said. "I think that obviously hurt our defense and when you get into Pac-10 play and you're facing the big multidimensional team, a big physical football team with great athletes you have to play well."

Earlier in the week, starting safety Tyree Toomer consistently stated that tackling, tackling, and more tackling were the Cougars' three main focuses in preparation for USC, and the redshirt sophomore told CF.C that even after the game, he still doesn't know exactly what went wrong.

"I don't know really," Toomer said on the defense's tackling blunders. "We just weren't wrapping up. I think to many guys on our team we're just going for the big hit and in this league it's not going to happen like that.

"These backs are too big and too strong, if you hit them they're just going to bounce off and keep their feet moving so it's our job to make sure we hit them and wrap them up and make sure they get to the ground."

Toomer was WSU's second-leading tackler behind Bucannon, with seven stops.

AFTER THE COUGARS TOOK the 7-0 lead, USC scored 14 points in 11 seconds -- first with Havili's big run, and then when Jeff Tuel locked onto his receiver and was intercepted by Nickell Robey, who returned it 25 yards for the score.

"Crap, God dangit let's turn this thing back around," Wulff said he was thinking. "It was good when we responded and made it 21-13, the kids are fighting but we just couldn't handle them."

Tuel, who methodically drove the Cougars down field in the first quarter, struggled the rest of the way, throwing three costly interceptions in the first half. It opened the door for USC to extend its lead to 28-13 going into the half.

"We're just not good enough right now to overcome a lot of mistakes," Wulff said. "Until we become more and more explosive and more consistent, we're not going to be able to overcome a lot of mistakes. It's coming, but it's not where we're at right now."

The Cougars are now 1-3 on the season, and Wulff is 4-25 so far in his coaching career. Wulff was asked during his post-game news conference what his emotions are after so many losses, and Wulff was straight and to the point.

"It's frustration, I just told the players it makes me mad and I'm tired of it," Wulff said. "No one in there better be happy, and they're not. It's the first time we've got that turned where their not happy when we lose.

"They're disappointed and we need to be but at the same time whether we won the game or lost it, we have to flush this thing because we have to start prepping on Monday and move forward and take the good, build on it and move on. We can't have hangovers from football games but it better sting for a good 48 hours."


  • WR Jared Karstetter had one of the best games of his career with eight receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns. It was Karstetter's second multi-touchdown game of his career, with the first coming last year against Notre Dame.

  • On top of Buchanan's interception, MLB Alex Hoffman-Ellis also intercepted Barkley, and LB C.J. Mizell forced and recovered a fumble.

  • The Cougs scored a TD on it's opening possession for the first time since 2008 when they did so against Portland State at Martin Stadium.

  • How surprising was UCLA's 34-12 win at Texas on Saturday? So surprising that Paul Wulff had just one word -- "Wow!" -- when informed that his next opponent was dismantling the Longhorns.

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