Joe Salave'a: Dissecting wins vs. losses

SPOKANE -- Joe Salave'a came to Monday's Cougar Club luncheon in Spokane with a simple message: Washington State's 51-26 loss to the No. 2 Oregon Ducks on Saturday was closer than the scoreboard indicated. In fact, the former NFL lineman and current WSU defensive line coach boiled it down to one simple formula: Five Plays = We Win By Three.

And make no mistake, this 6-5, 320-plus-pound former Titan, Raven, Charger and Redskin wasn't joking around.

"I want to give you a slice of what life is like in our world," he said. "It's always easy to talk about events after the fact. But I want to show you five plays -- if we just executed our routine plays, we win by three points."

Salave'a then showed five separate plays and showed where the team's execution was off. Among them:

  • A play in the red zone early in the fourth quarter where red-shirt freshman quarterback Connor Halliday, feeling pressure from his back side that wasn't actually there, overthrew senior wide receiver Gino Simone in the end zone.

  • A personal foul penalty on a defensive back that led to an Oregon touchdown.

  • And a missed tackle-for-loss by a redshirt freshman defensive lineman on Kenjon Barner's 80-yard fourth-quarter touchdown.

    "It's all about the journey, and we're on the fast track," he said.

    He also reviewed what he termed three routine plays that the Cougars failed to execute properly. Independent of the above-mentioned miscues, these three plays, if done right, would have led to a 14-point WSU win: a first-quarter play in the red zone where Halliday overlooked a wide-open Marquess Wilson over the middle and, instead, threw incomplete in the corner of the end zone; a routine pass at the goal line that was dropped in the second quarter; and a sack the Cougars took in the red zone.

    "We control the outcome," he said. "Not our opponent. You have to remember that we have a quarterback who never went through spring football under this system. I would love to have another shot at this team (Oregon) at the end of the year. For the first time, our guys put together four quarters of football, and they did it in front of 60-some thousand people and not on their home field."

    Salave'a talked about the need for the young Cougars to maintain consistent execution.

    "After that first half, Oregon couldn't wait to get into the lockerroom," he said. "We needed to maintain that same level in the second half and didn't."

    Still, he said, the team is excited for this week's Oregon State game in Corvallis (3 p.m. kickoff on the Pac-12 Network).

    "There are a lot of keys that we can attack," he said. "Just like in the NFL, it's about match-ups. At the end of the day, it's about whether you can line up and hit the guy opposite you in the mouth and drive him back two yards."

    The theme of the day was set by athletic director Bill Moos, who talked about being down after the heart-breaking loss to Colorado and arriving at the airport for a flight to Seattle for the start of a week filled with 31 events over six days leading up to Saturday's game at CenturyLink Field and running into a member of the football staff and a young man wearing a WSU baseball cap" who had verbally committed to play football for the Cougars.

    "I can't give you names, but this young man plays wide receiver on the No. 1 team in the country according to USA Today," he said. "He's going to pair with the quarterback ... who Dennis Erickson started recruiting when he was in the ninth grade, and the big lineman from Wenatchee."

    For those who don't pay close attention to the talent wars, the receiver alluded to is River Cracraft out of Santa Margarita High in southern California; the quarterback is Tyler Bruggman out of Brophy Prep in Phoenix; and the Wenatchee lineman is Cody O'Connell. All three verbally committed to WSU over the summer.

    Salave'a talked about the recruiting process, especially recruiting players from Hawaii and American Samoa -- especially after signing defensive linemen Richard Barber and Destiny Vaeao, both from Samoa.

    "Our mantra is simple: Get them on the plane," he said. "If we can get them on the plane, we have a good shot at getting them to commit. Pullman is a true college town; it's an easy sell for us. I know in the past, if a player was highly recruited, they would back off. We can't do that. If a kid is highly recruited, one of those offers had better be from Washington State.

    "Recruiting in Hawaii and in Samoa, to me it's all about being in a small town and finding an open door. If you mess up there, you can't go back. Pullman is an easy sell there because the 25 mile-per-hour rule applies here, too."

    Moos announced that the October 13th game with California will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised on the Pac-12 Network. He also that he plans to have the Cougars play one home game in Seattle every year.

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