Monday Morning Quarterbacking with Alex Brink

WASHINGTON STATE STEPPED up and responded to a very difficult challenge in the desert with the win over Arizona to move to 5-5. And from what I saw, the key for the defense was that the Cougar linebackers and defensive backs showed something they hadn't in recent weeks… trust.

Going on the road and winning in the Pac-12 is not easy. The Cougars didn't play a perfect game, but they may have played their most complete game of the year.

The defense was disciplined and aggressive the entire day. The offense responded to adversity and was very patient. More importantly, both sides of the ball made plays late in the game that proved to be the difference.

The margin for error to win on the road is incredibly small and Washington State demonstrated great resiliency in the way they handled their trip to Tucson.

Now, about that trust… Some game thoughts:

1) Linebackers:
The play of Washington State's linebackers, specifically Darryl Monroe and Justin Sagote, was significantly better than previous weeks. They were playing downhill and aggressively took on blockers. We have heard the Cougar coaches consistently talk about how poor the defense's eyes have been lately. It appears that some time off helped that problem. The defensive ends and linebackers did an excellent job reading and reacting to Arizona's zone read, running scheme. Against Arizona State we saw too many times when Cougar defensive ends would chase the running back without a linebacker accounting for the quarterback run. The two positions have to work together and possess a mutual trust. Clearly, with the bye week, some extra practice time against the zone read helped the Cougars develop this chemistry.

2) Secondary: Although the Cougar defensive backs weren't challenged too much by quarterback B.J. Denker, I was impressed by their discipline. Whenever Arizona tried to go to their play action and push the ball downfield, Washington State was there to make a play. The one big pass play the defense gave up was on an inside post route when they were playing Cover 2. This was more a product of a good offensive play call and a great route by the receiver, than a poor defensive play. It would have been easy for the Cougar secondary to start peeking in the backfield and try to help in the run game. Instead, they trusted the defensive line and linebackers to handle Arizona's rushing attack. As a result, they were in position make plays when the Wildcats put the ball in the air.

1) The running game:
You knew this one was coming. I loved seeing the Cougar offense mix in a handful of running plays throughout the game. WSU will never be confused for Oregon or Arizona State when it comes to running the football under Mike Leach, but just adding a sprinkling of handoffs throughout the game keeps the defense honest. Connor Halliday also did an excellent job of using the running backs in the pass game as well. The presence of the running back in the Air Raid offense forces linebackers to be more disciplined and stay in the box longer. This allows bigger windows in the pass game that Halliday was able to consistently exploit.

2) Quarterback play: Connor Halliday was incredibly patient throughout the game. He was very willing on first down to check the ball down to his running back or underneath routes by the receivers. This kept the offense out of long yardage situations for much of the day. Also evidenced by his nearly 74 percent completion percentage, Halliday didn't force many throws downfield. He took what the defense gave him and struck for big plays when the opportunity presented itself. The third quarter touchdown throw to River Cracraft was one of his best all year. On the play, Arizona dropped into Cover 2 and took away Connor's initial read to his left. He did an excellent job scanning back to the middle of the field and finding Cracraft splitting the open zone.

It goes without saying that Saturday's against Utah is huge. (TV: Pac-12 Networks, 12:30 p.m.) When you consider where they've been, to be bowl eligible would be an incredible accomplishment for this team and a great step in getting Washington State back to prominence in the Pac-12.

To get a win over the Utes, it will take just as complete an effort as we saw in Tucson. As good as this WSU team has been on the road, for whatever reason that magic has not followed them back home. If the Cougars are going to return to the conference elite, it is time they restore the home field advantage to Martin Stadium.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alex Brink was the starting quarterback at Washington State from 2004-2007, throwing for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in school history – and the third-most yards in Pac-10 history. He was picked second-team all-Pac-10 twice and honorable mention once. Drafted in the seventh round by the Houston Texans in 2008, he spent a season on their practice squad before playing three years in the Canadian Football League with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2010-2012.) Brink signed with Montreal of the CFL in 2013. Prior to that he was the head quarterbacks coach for the Barton Football Academy based in Portland. He can be found on twitter at @AlexBrink10.

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