A coach's take on the Cougs

IN LOOKING AHEAD to Oregon State on Saturday – and to the second half of the Cougs' season as well – the key to defensive success for Washington State looks to weigh heavily upon the defensive line. Specifically, the ability of the Cougars to both stop the run and bring pressure without necessarily having to go heavy on the blitzes. So just how up to the challenge are Ioane Gauta and crew?

Well, if you ask Jim Walden, he's bullish on the Cougs' prospects.

"I want to especially compliment Ioane Gauta -- I thought he was just superb at Cal," said Walden. "In every phase, I thought he was sensational and I thought he made it easier for Toni Pole, Xavier Cooper and (Destiny Vaeao) to do what they did."

Walden is a big Deone Bucannon fan as well.

"I know this might sound crazy to you but from what I've seen this season, and Cal really was a great example of this -- between Bucannon and that front three, that's four parts as good as there in this league, maybe even in the country," said Walden. "I know, but Pole, Gauta and Cooper, those are three salty guys who play good, hard and very organized, very technique-based football.

"And in Bucannon, I'm already wondering what we're going to do next year … it felt like he had 20 tackles out there on Saturday. I'm already dreading next year without him. But let's enjoy him for now, because he is special."

BUT THE COUGAR SECONDARY, Bucannon included, made some large mistakes Saturday against Cal. The week before against Stanford saw even more secondary breakdowns. Yet when the Cougar pass rush brings the heat, keyed by that d-line trio and the BUCK, the secondary suddenly looks a whole lot better.

"We got pressure more than Cal did - that pressure and the fumbles changed that whole game. I think overall (offense, defense, special teams) we were better but not by a whole lot… But we won so I'm proud of that. And I think we're better on defense because Mike Breske can bring pressure with his fourth and fifth guys and feel comfortable doing it," said Walden.

THE Oregon State game figures to be a pretty big test for the Cougar D – Beaver quarterback Sean Mannion leads the nation in passing yards and total offense and WSU has been iffy at best against the pass the last two weeks. And while the Beaver offense is markedly different from Cal's, there are at least some similarities between the two teams in where they throw the ball to on the field.

"The over the center stuff, what I call hash marks in, Cal found success there," said Walden. "And they threw the deep ball well against us. Cal usually tried to find that single defender and pick on him and they got away with that against us."

Oregon State probably uses more sideline patterns than Cal but they've definitely shown an affinity towards throwing over the middle, and deep, in their first five games.

And you can't expect the pass rush to get there all the time.

Indeed, the Cougar secondary will need to step up but the Wazzu linebackers are also going to be critical here. The group has played well at times, particularly against the run, but struggled in pass coverage against Cal. Walden, however, doesn't necessarily agree with that last statement.

"I think we do have better than average linebackers (in coverage) – Justin Sagote, I though he played well," said Walden. "I've been watching him and he doesn't get a lot of attention but he caught my eye… he was real busy, so was Cyrus Coen…And those passing stats might read equal but Cal might have just done a great job of getting stats, and not the points, against a pretty good defense.

"But Bucannon and those three guys up front, that's the single biggest difference to me when looking at Cal... in looking ahead to Oregon State and in looking to the rest of the season when it comes to defense."

WHEN IT COMES to the Cougar offense, Walden is more anxious when discussing WSU's prospects the rest of the way.

"I thought our offensive line played well at Cal and I think they have played well for the most part all season. But I also think you'll see more blitzes from here on out. I think what you saw at Cal, that's probably as vanilla as we're going to see anybody play us the rest of the year," said Walden of a remaining schedule that includes OSU, Oregon, ASU, Arizona, Utah and Washington.

Chief among Walden's concerns is what happens if Connor Halliday, who looked like he might need to come out of the game on several occasions against Cal, gets further dinged up.

"He's getting more comfortable all the time, you've seen it these last two games, getting it the right guy at the right place and time and I'm talking as a former quarterbacks coach here.. but what worries me is if, as people keep coming after him, I'm worried he's not going to be able to make it. He looked hurt so much (at Cal)," said Walden.

Walden went on to say he hopes WSU decides to get Austin Apodaca some reps when "the bullets are still flying."

"I don't know what (Halliday's) injury is but even just kneeling down, I'm worried Connor is going to aggravate that thing based on how he is hurting … It's not going to be as easy from now on. They're not going to rush just four and play cover-2 against us, I don't believe. They're going to come after us, maybe even with six or seven. I hope we can counter," said Walden.

  • CF.C informed Walden that since the USC job search has already turned comical, we sent his resume to Pat Haden's unauthorized representatives and that he should get ready to come out of retirement. "No way in hell," laughed Walden. "Actually I'd do it, but I'd want a 5 year contract from them with an iron-clad guarantee that you'll fire me after 2 years."

  • Walden can be heard talking Cougar football Thursdays @4 p.m. on KRKO Fox Sports 1380AM with Jeff "Fish" Aaron. To listen online CLICK HERE

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