Looking for good news on WSU? There's plenty

PULLMAN – The Washington State football team has lost three straight games. Decisively. With plenty of negative numbers scattered about the stats sheets. It is during trying times like these that players, coaches and fans tend to forget the many positives that have developed during the 2013 season.

First and foremost, the 4-5 Cougars (2-4 Pac-12) still have a shot at a bowl game, winning overall record and winning conference record. None of the three opponents left on the schedule (Arizona, Utah and Washington) are nationally ranked, and that's good news for a Cougars squad that has played four Top 25 teams and two others that were ranked after playing WSU.

Only six teams have passed for more yards per game than Washington State (365.0). Only nine teams have recovered more fumbles (nine). Only 13 teams have forced more turnovers (21).

Individually, Connor Halliday ranks second in the nation with 3,098 passing yards (Oregon State's Sean Mannion has 3,540), and Halliday is tied for 10th with 20 touchdown passes. That's the same number of touchdown passes as Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who may win the Heisman Trophy.

Safety Deone Bucannon, who made Sports Illustrated's Midseason All-America first team, is tied for fourth nationally with 50 solo tackles, tied for fifth with five interceptions and tied for 11th with 85 total tackles. All three numbers lead the Pac-12.

Wide receiver Gabe Marks ranks 13th in the nation with 63 receptions. His 7.0 catches per game puts him on pace for 84 receptions in 12 games. That's two more catches than Marquess Wilson's school record, set in 2011.

True, the Cougars have registered their share of negative numbers. They're last among 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 20 interceptions and 52.1 rushing yards per game, and they're next to last with 27 turnovers.

Also, WSU ranks 107th in passing yards allowed per game (269.2), 102nd in total defense (453.1) and 100th in scoring defense (32.7). On offense, the Cougars average just 10.2 yards per pass completion (119th), and they score only 74.3 percent of the time after reaching the red zone (106th).

Most disturbing of all, the Cougars have allowed 52 points or more in three straight games, and four of the past five. The only worse stretch in WSU football history came in 2008, when coach Paul Wulff's first WSU team gave up between 58 and 69 points in four consecutive games.

WSU's defensive meltdown the past five games immediately followed a three-game winning streak, during which the Cougars allowed just 17 points, capped by a 42-0 shutout of Idaho.

The explanations given by players and coaches for the defensive woes tend to repeat themselves after each game. Communication breakdowns. Poor gap coverage. Wandering eyes. Players trying to do too much.

"All we can do is get in the film room, correct it and stay positive and move on," defensive end Xavier Cooper said after a 55-21 loss to Arizona State last Thursday.

"We'll continue to fight," Bucannon promised, "and we'll continue to fight hard."

The Cougars have their second bye in three weeks this week, then visit Arizona on Nov. 16. Since Arizona's 38-31 loss to USC – a team WSU defeated 10-7 – the Wildcats (6-2, 3-2) have made themselves bowl eligible by putting together a three-game winning streak against underwhelming Utah, Colorado and California squads.

A three-game win streak of their own would vault the Cougars into a bowl game. Two more wins almost certainly would good enough to go to a bowl.

"We want to go to a bowl game," Cooper said, "but right now, my focus is going into the film room, trying to get better every game."

Sounds like a plan, Halliday says.

"When we execute," he said, "we can compete with anybody."

Cougfan Top Stories