NOTEBOOK: Cougs becoming a sack happy bunch
But perhaps an even more significant difference statistically between this season and last has been Washington State's ability, on offense, to convert on third down. The Cougs rank fifth in the Pac-10 with a 39.8 percent conversion rate. Last year, it was 24 percent.
Despite an unproductive running game for much of the season, WSU still ranks fifth in the Pac-10 conference in time of possession, holding the ball an average of 29:55. The Cougars (89.3) are the only Pac-10 team averaging under 100 yards rushing per game.
The Cougars, however, dominated on both sides of the ball in their last game out against Oregon State and that included the ground game – WSU rushed for more than 200 yards for the first time under Paul Wulff, while holding OSU under 100 yards.
Washington State is second in the Pac-10 in punting behind UCLA, and senior P Reid Forrest is one of 10 semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award, signifying the nation's top collegiate punter. Forrest is averaging 45.2 yards on 59 punts this season.
Safety Chima Nwachukwu has been named to the 2010 ESPN Academic All-America Second Team, as selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Nwachukwu, a native of Allen, Texas, is a political science major with a 3.85 grade point average and is one of 10 semifinalists for the Wuerffel Trophy, the national award that honors the college football player who best combines exemplary community service with outstanding academic and athletic achievement.
Paul Wulff and the WSU staff wanted to keep Jeff Tuel healthy this year -- limiting his runs early, and then having him run more late in the season. Tuel might not run as much against the Huskies as he did against Oregon State – including sack yardage he rushed for 79 yards on 18 carries (4.4 ypc) – but it is expected he'll use his feet often. Tuel's running also helps open more plays downfield.
Meanwhile, Tuel ranks fifth in the Pac-10 in passing average this season, at 225.6 yards per game.
True freshman WR Marquess Wilson has five touchdown receptions this season -- just one away from the freshman school record at Washington State, (Phillip Bobo). Wilson is drawing ever more attention from opposing defenses and that's opened other things up for WSU. Daniel Blackledge had 76 receiving yards against OSU, the second time this season he's accrued such receiving yardage.
The Cougar defensive line, and defense as a whole, had a breakout game the last time out against OSU. A big reason why has been much improved play up front with the likes of DTs Anthony Laurenzi, Bernard Wolfgramm and Brandon Rankin, along with sophomore DE Travis Long continuing to improve.
The Cougar defense has blanked two consecutive teams in the first quarter. First quarter shutouts aren't all that common, and given the last two years at WSU, when many games were effectively decided in the first quarter, it's a significant step.
A now healthy Aire Justin is starting to have an impact out on the corner. He has an interception in each of his last two games.
Washington State has seen increasingly productive play out of their freshmen linebackers, MLB C.J. Mizell and OLB Sekope Kaufusi. The play of true freshman safety Deone Bucannon has also been a revelation.
Bucannon is not close to where he's going to be physically in the next few years, but he's already one of the hardest hitting safeties in the Pac-10 and has 76 tackles on the season.
The emergence of the young talent has meant Washington State has been able to call more, and varied, pressures and blitzes on defense as the season has gone along, something they were not able to do the previous two seasons.
If there's one good thing about having two bye weeks stacks on top of each other, it's the time to heal up. Washington State hopes to get back CB Daniel Simmons (shoulder), WR Gino Simone (concussion) and LB Mike Ledgerwood (head) in time for the Apple Cup. In addition, many Cougs who are starting and/or playing significant turns have various bumps and bruises that will benefit from the extra time off. Washington State did not suffer any significant injuries in the Oregon State game.
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