Upon further review ... scrimmage insights

THERE'S A REASON coaches watch mountains of tape over and over. There's so much to see. Several rewinds of the Crimson & Gray Game have led me to some new conclusions, and reinforced some initial impressions, about what we saw. Observations about sacks and the o-line, passing yards and QB play, defensive prowess and more, come into sharper focus when you slow it down and watch it all a few times.

For instance, when you slow the action down to one-fifteenth speed, you notice Xavier Cooper was the first off the ball on the d-line on a number of plays.

Cooper got to the QB in but 2.2 seconds on one occasion. He beat Niu Sale, who mostly had a down day. Connor Halliday still somehow made the completion on that one -- a nice piece of work that was otherwise lost in the shuffle.

The first play from scrimmage by the Crimson team, with Halliday at the controls, set an early tone. His primary receiver was covered and he quickly dumped it to running back Marcus Mason for a 7-yard gain. Giving yourself a 2nd-down-and-3 situation is always a win, but what really stood out was how Halliday, quickly, made the right decision. The Crimson team went on to score and Halliday looked sharp.

Unfortunately, it didn't last. Halliday's numbers on the day were huge (38-of-58 for 406 yards and 3 TDs). But what happened after the Crimson team found the end zone that first time was a lot like what happened last year: Lots of yards, but few points to show for it.

Halliday didn't get much in the way of consistent protection. The Gray squad offered more pocket integrity, especially from the second quarter on, that did Halliday's Crimson squad.

Halliday's pocket always seemed to be shrinking -- but the Gray squad established a better-defined horseshoe around Austin Apodaca. Some of that also had to do with Apodaca getting the ball out quicker.

The best play from both o-lines came when the Cougs went up-tempo beginning with the third quarter. It makes you wonder if Mike Leach is going to try and play at a quicker pace between snaps this season, or if that was simply coincidence.

On the offensive line, tackle Eduardo Middleton has a bright future ahead of him at WSU. But the spring game is probably one he'd like to forget. Middleton on a number of plays was on his heels -- he didn't establish his base and got bowled over at times. As he learns to more consistently get his feet right, he'll realize how strong he is and stand more guys up.

A number of o-linemen struggled on the day, especially when the d-linemen twisted -- John Fullington being beaten by Kache Palacio on a couple snaps stood out, as did Jacob Seydel when he lost his man. Matt Goetz failed to pick up his guy on occasion. Gunnar Eklund couldn't react quickly enough when Ivan McLennan made his first move to the outside before charging back on an inside track.

It wasn't all bad for the o-line. When the aforementioned got their hands on the inside of their man, they got the job done. It's just that there weren't enough of those plays.

There were a number of drops by receivers and running backs during the course of the game, many of which could have potentially reestablished momentum for the offense. The wind didn't help, and not all the throws were in the right spot, but many of those balls simply have to be caught.

The receivers also failed to make key blocks out in space on too many occasions, some of which could have sprung the pass-catcher for bigger gains. There were times it all worked, though...

The best pocket all day for Halliday came midway through the third quarter when he was throwing out of his own end zone -- and he responded with a perfect deep ballto Isiah Myers for a 43-yard gain. On the next play, Myers executed a nice block that helped produce a good gain on first down.

And Apodaca found his rhythm after the first quarter, with quick passes that moved the chains.

Speaking of Apodaca, the ball looks good coming out of his hand. He threw for far fewer yards (279) than Halliday (406), and two fewer touchdowns. But he didn't turn the ball over and he used his feet well.

After watching the tape repeatedly, what kept sticking on the brain were the two Halliday interceptions, one by Jared Byers and the other from Taylor Taliulu.

On the first, his receiver got bumped off course. But the ball still should have never been thrown -- there were simply too many defenders in the area. The second, Halliday never saw the safety. These were the kinds of throws Halliday made last year, and that they continued into the spring game are a disappointment.

That said, it was a spring game. There are different considerations in a spring game that won't be present when the games count for real. And Leach said the offenses on that Saturday didn't play as well as they have over the course of the spring. And he said the Cougs have had a really good spring.

Cougar fans will be holding tightly onto that thought with both hands this offseason, in large part because the o-line didn't match expectations. Still, to be fair, multiple viewings have shown it wasn't as bad as the stat book indicated.

The starting o-line was split between the two teams -- the left side were 1s, right side were 2s. And the 1s -- such as Rico Forbes, Elliott Bosch and Joe Dahl -- performed better than the 2s. Some of the 10 sacks wouldn't have been sacks if the QBs were open to contact -- there were a number of times Halliday and Apodaca wouldn't have been tackled if left to play it out.

But what has to be of concern was that there was no blitzing. And tagged/sacked or not, the consistency of the pressure and how soon it got there was an eye opener. The running game was a near carbon copy of last year, with too few yards gained up the gut and even fewer available outside the tackles. Yes, all in all, the o-lines looked better than last year -- but only incrementally so.

Over on defense, Cougar fans who watched the spring game had to come away feeling pretty good.

The D didn't blitz, and still brought plenty of pressure and kept piling up the sack numbers.

They were missing their top two starting nose tackles, and yet Darryl Paulo still got a strong push inside and plugged the gaps. Outside, they were just as effective in both the pass rush and in sealing the edge, and Cooper showed he might be on the verge of something special.

The Cougar D was without Deone Bucannon, their best player in the secondary. And yet the didn't show the kinds of lapses they did in 2012.

They also forced turnovers, and they should have had, at least, one additional pick.

Middle linebacker Darryl Monroe looks like a rising star. It didn't gain much notice, but he stuffed a fourth and goal from the one, and was in on numerous other plays.

The front seven looks stronger and faster than last season. And that should significantly help the secondary, which looked uneven at times this spring over the course of 15 practices.

THE BOTTOM LINE ON THE DAY was this: The Cougs need to figure a way to score a proportionate number of points to the yards they gain. If not, the 2013 campaign is not going to be all that dissimilar from 2012.

Spring is the time to experiment. Now the coaches can work on fixing the problems and tightening everything up. The players have time to work on improving their deficient areas.

And the spring game, after multiple viewings, told us something else. These next few months, from now through the last week of fall camp, will go a long, long ways towards determining how successful the Cougs are in the fall.

  • There were also two plays that looked like fumbles that appeared to slide, it was tough to tell if the refs had blown the whistle early and called a sack. Had it been a real game, either could have been a momentum killer.

  • Some of the special teams units had issues. There were two early poor punts and a botched hold on a field goal try. More "live" work in fall camp will likely help clean that up, as the units didn't get an abundance of live special teams work in spring ball.

  • Kristoff Williams made the quintessential Air Raid play, catching a Halliday pass at the line of scrimmage and then turning it into an 80-yard, seam-weaving dash to the house to put the Crimson up 14-7. Bobby Ratliff and Gabe Marks made a couple of picture-perfect grabs, which bodes well.

  • The Pac-12 Network's color commentary by Rick Neuheisel and Curtis Conway was pretty darn candid. And one had to chuckle at their reaction to an ill-fated "jump ball" pass play in the right corner of the end zone in the second quarter. Neuheisel, a former quarterback, blamed Apodaca for not putting the ball in the right spot, and Conway, a former receiver, blamed Marks for not grabbing the ball at its highest point.

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