To gauge WSU progress, look to scoreboard

AT THE END of the day, goes the 'ol saying, the only statistic that matters is the final score up on the board. And in looking at the Cougs through eight games this season, there are two chief scoring numbers that no one is really talking about. And they should be...

The first is this: In Mike Leach's first season, the Cougars scored a total of 245 points. Through eight games in 2013, the Cougs have surpassed that mark, with 247 points.

Breaking it down further, WSU is averaging 30.9 points per game this season. Last year, they averaged 20.41. And in 2012, the Cougs were outscored 404-245. But in 2013, the Cougars have outscored their opponents 247-239.

Four times last season the Cougs were held to single digit outputs – and in half their games, they scored but 17 points or less. But through eight games in 2013, the Cougs have scored 24 or more points six times, and 38 points or more on four occasions. And WSU's lowest scoring output was a game they won (10-7, USC).

Another 10-point gain on the scoreboard in Year 3 might be asking for a lot. Then again, look at some of the scoring opportunities that have been squandered this season. It's not a stretch in the least to imagine Leach carving out at least some additional improvement up on the scoreboard in 2014, is it?

That brings us to the second point, and the number here is a doozy.

As CougFans well remember during many games last season, the same script played over and over. The Cougs came out in the first half and were often competitive. Optimism was even brimming on occasion at the end of the second quarter. But when Wazzu came out of the locker room to start the third quarter, the game – rapidly -- got away from them.

And this is a truly staggering statistic from 2012: In 12 games last season, the Cougs scored a grand total of 28 points in the third quarter. Yow.

Their opponents meanwhile clocked 108.

Flash forward to this season, where WSU in eight games has already more than doubled last season's mark, scoring 51 points in the third quarter to opponents' 52.

Surely, WSU must be doing something different in the locker room at halftime. Surely, they're making different adjustments than they did last season. Something. Anything. Right?

Nope, says Mike Leach.

"We are just better," Leach said when CF.C asked him about it earlier this season. "People have been at it longer and they've played a year."

That penetrating insight aside, we asked a couple defensive coaches the same questions, wondering if there might be a bigger reveal out there -- even a subtle change in how WSU has been going about their business at halftime this season as compared to last. But the assistants echoed Leach – they're really not doing anything differently. The difference in third quarter output, they say, is because the players are simply older, wiser, better and more experienced.

"That's two-fold," said d-line coach . "I think our sense of understanding our own system and what we are trying to teach across the board philosophy-wise is one thing. Our energy and a little bit of our effort is making up for some of those things. We are far from where we need to be, but I think these kids are this year… have that workmen-like mentality. It is all about us and continuing to perfect our techniques and our efforts and our alignment assignments."

WSU linebackers coach Ken Wilson is in his first season with the Cougs so he wasn't around last year. But after 20 years as a college football coach, he says halftime adjustments just aren't all they're cracked up to be. Further, if you're looking at the coaches when there's success in that area, you're (mostly) looking in the wrong place.

"We have had some pretty good adjustments at half so far and most of that is a credit to the kids, not the coaches," said Wilson. "There is way too much credit given to halftime adjustments in football. Most of the time it is just us emphasizing the stuff we got to emphasize and the kids executing better when that happens.

"We just make whatever adjustments we have to make. If we are not playing well against the run, we make those corrections. If we are not playing well against the pass, we make those corrections."

However it's getting done, CougFans will be hoping to see more crimson fireworks in the third quarter against ASU on Halloween night.

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