INSIDE WSU-CAL: Oh that Cougar defensive line

THE COUGAR DEFENSE surrendered plenty of yards to Cal but the WSU defensive line, the best thing about the crimson stop corps down in Berkeley, did something that until now had been thought to be just about impossible. They made middle linebacker Darryl Monroe almost disappear.

Monroe came into the game as the No. 2 tackler on the Cougs. In five games, he had been among the best, most consistent Cougar defenders. And he ended up with only two assists against Cal. Why? The WSU defensive line simply made a number of tackles and big plays themselves instead of occupying blockers and helping Monroe clean up, as per usual.

Ioane Gauta had five tackles, two sacks, three tackles-for-loss and two pass break ups. And that stat line doesn't begin to show how much influence he had in WSU's 44-22 win at Cal.

An even more damning verdict on how stats lie, Toni Pole had only two tackles in the game. But he had a fantastic strip and fumble recovery, one of two fumbles he recovered on the day. Both came with Cal knocking on the door of the goal line. Both Gauta and Pole regularly moved around on the line, coming at Cal from both the inside and outside, as did Xavier Cooper. Cal seemed to struggle with that.

And that is particularly telling: Washington State's impressive goal line stands on Saturday came about because the short field meant the d-line would have the most influence on who won the battle. The Cougar pass coverage may have been lacking, the Cougar front was not.

It's also worth noting the contributions of two d-linemen who haven't been in the limelight as much as some of their teammates – DL Darryl Paulo (three solo tackles) and BUCK Kache Palacio, the latter being a major disrupter beyond his four tackles including a sack. Both saw considerable reps at Cal.

WSU HEAD MAN Mike Leach wants his running backs to lead the conference in all-purpose yards, not necessarily rushing yards. That's when his Air Raid offense works best. Well, Marcus Mason gave CougFans a glimpse of what that looks like.

Mason rushed a modest seven times but produced 32 ground yards (4.6 ypc) and he supplemented that with four catches for a team-high 118 hashes, including a sterling 68-yard catch and run for score. He became the first Cougar running back since 2000 to amass at least 100 yards receiving (Deon Burnett, 101 yards, Arizona).

COUGFANS HAD BEEN WONDERING if Vince Mayle -- a rare blend of power and speed -- would become the 6-3, 240-pound receiving weapon envisioned when he signed with WSU back in February. Mayle served notice at Cal.

Mayle, who has been rising the past couple games, exploded against the Golden Bears with four catches for 113 yards and two TDs. One of those scores aptly displayed both Mayle's power and speed – he decaffeinated a would-be tackler in the open field with seemingly little effort and then outraced another defensive back to the end zone on the 72-yard TD score.

And consider this about Mayle -- he now has four TD grabs, tied with Gabe Marks and one behind team leader Jeremiah Laufasa.

THE COUGARS' SPECIAL TEAMS earned the moniker in Berkeley. The Cougs didn't bust off any big returns but they held Cal in check and also caused a turnover. But as good as the Cougars' kickoff and punt coverage was, we have to start with punter Mike Bowlin. As Mars Blackman said back in the day, "Money, it's gotta be the shoes!"

Bowlin ditched the yellow-green eyesores he had worn to this point and it was as if a light switch turned on. Bowlin booted five punts, (43.4 yard average) with a long of 49. He also nailed three punts inside the 20-yard line. He and Andrew Furney shared the kickoffs with five apiece. Both had a touchback. Furney averaged 61.6 yards, Bowlin 67.

By the by, Furney hit three-of-four field goals (44, 41, 28; miss 39) to increase his career total to 39, the fourth most in WSU history. now has 39 career field goals, fourth most in program history.

THE WSU SECONDARY and linebackers had their problems in coverage against Cal. And that's putting it mildly, with Cal's version of the Air Raid racking up 506 passing yards, (Connor Halliday had 521 hashes through the air.)

But linebacker Cyrus Coen's 10 stops moved him into second on the Cougar season tackles list with 40 takedowns. Monroe is second with 38 and unsung linebacker Justin Sagote is right behind with 37 tackles.

Safety Deone Bucannon, who else, led the Cougs with 12 tackles, (8 solo) and pulled down a pick. It was Bucannon's 13th career pick, tied for fourth most at Wazzu and his 326 career tackles place him in a tie for sixth-most all time.

Daquawn Brown had the other interception, giving him two in his first six games with the Cougs.

UP FRONT ON THE O-LINE, Matt Goetz had a solid day in his first start this season. Goetz started at right guard, with John Fullington moving to right tackle and Rico Forbes, who started the first five games at RT, moving to the sideline.

The Cougs allowed but one sack, amassing 585 total yards on offense. They didn't run for a ton of yards (21 rushes, 49 yards) but there was a nifty 10-yard run for score by Teondray Caldwell and the Cougs provided a pretty good pocket on Halliday's program record 67 passing attempts.

And here's something: WSU has rushed for six TDs this season -- the same number they rushed for all of last year.

QUICK, NAME THE Cougs' leading receiver from the game. Kudos if you said Bobby Ratliff, who quietly grabbed eight catches (62 yards).

If you only looked at the box score, you might be tempted to lament Dom Williams' line – one catch for seven yards. But Williams is fast becoming a virtual lock to draw at least one pass interference call a game -- and with teams having to focus so much on him, he opened up a lot of underneath stuff the Cougs exploited against Cal.

COUGAR RUNNING BACK Jeremiah Laufasa may have been robbed of a second touchdown. Replays seemed to indicate he broke the plane on a third down run but the officials spotted him a full yard short. WSU went for it on fourth down and Laufasa, who ran wide, was tackled for a loss.

The referees spot brings up two points: the first is that the replay booth clearly erred by not buzzing down to at least take a look. And when they didn't, WSU should have waited until the clock was about to strike zeros and then challenged the call. That the WSU coaching staff in the booth, the eye in the sky, didn't signal down to Mike Leach to challenge was as surprising as was the Cougs' call to run wide when backed up to their own goal line that resulted in a Cal safety.

Second, the officials, as is often seen these days, regularly move the ball up so it rests on the next yard line, apparently because it makes it easier for the chain gang. On one Cal punt return, the official moved the ball up nearly a full yard from where the player was down, from the 49- to the 50-yard line. Not spotting the ball accurately opens up a can of worms, for obvious and myriad reasons.

THE HIT OF the day goes to Theron West, all 5-7, 172-pounds of him. The Wazzu special teamer laid out a hard, textbook stick on a kickoff return, putting a hat on the ball and forcing a fumble that was recovered by Jeremiah Allison.

And then there was Mitch Peterson. The walk on saw extended playing time in the second half after WSU had forged a lead, but while the game was a long ways from being put on ice. Peterson posted a solo tackle and was in on a handful of other plays.

Cougfan Top Stories