WSU Two-Minute Drill: Hurricane Xavier

THE WEATHERMAN GOT it wrong. Reports of pleasant, short-sleeve weather in Pullman on Saturday night didn’t jibe with what a sellout crowd in Martin Stadium witnessed. Indeed, Cougar DL Xavier Cooper unleashed a wild tempest upon the Ducks. But to focus on Cooper’s night to the exclusion of what his fellow d-linemen did, well, that would be just a big 'ol miss.

CF.C Offensive and Defensive Players of the Game
Xavier Cooper’s stat line doesn’t do his night justice – five tackles, all assists, with 1.5 sacks and two tackles-for-loss. But the stats lie. Cooper was unblockable at times. Most importantly, the disruptive force that was No. 96 on Saturday night enabled many more of his Cougar d-line brethren, as well as the linebackers, to log very productive games.

The Cougar offensive line gets the offensive award. Connor Halliday most of the night had enough time in the pocket to order a sandwich. The starting quintet of LT Joe Dahl, LG Gunnar Eklund, C Riley Sorenson, Eduardo Middleton and RT Cole Madison allowed just one sack on the night -- it would prove a heartbreaker and WSU’s final offensive play in the 38-31 loss. The o-line also helped Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks gain 63 rushing yards on 10 carries and 499 yards of total offense.

Cougar surprises
--So this is what Big Joe was talking about all offseason. For the first time in four games, the starting d-line and their heavily utilized No. 2’s looked like an elite Pac-12 unit. Reserve Darryl Paulo was simply outstanding, with five stops, two solo with a sack and two tackles for loss. Daniel Ekuale brought the heat too, forcing Marcus Mariota out of the pocket where, unfortunately for Cougar fans, he carried 13 times for 58 yards (106 net, 48 yards lost.) The Cougs racked up seven sacks on Mariota because it didn’t matter if it was Cooper and the 1’s or the second team unit in there – they all made the Duck o-line look like human turnstiles. On one play, the Cougs rushed just four but all four Cougs were in Mariota’s face in short order, with the first one there getting credit for the sack.

-Alas, as good as the front seven were, the Washington State secondary had a rough-as-sandpaper-on-your-cheek kind of night. Duck wideouts were wide open on multiple occasions, in the end zone and elsewhere. It was clear early on that the Cougs just weren’t communicating effectively in the secondary, with each thinking the other was taking certain receivers.

--WSU introduced a jumbo package of seven o-linemen on at least three occasions, bringing in B.J. Salmonson and Jacob Seydel, and going with just two wide receivers.

--The top three WSU tacklers were all linebackers (numbers below.)

By the numbers:
-WSU gained 499 yards of total offense, Oregon gained 501.

-Connor Halliday threw for 436 yards, four TDs and no interceptions, (though one could argue the Ducks blew at least two chances for picks.) Still, Halliday’s 43-for-63 night shouldn’t, but probably will, be overlooked in light of two things: 1) the Cougs lost and 2) Mariota threw five TD passes. It was Halliday's 18th-career 300-yard game and ninth-career 400-yard game.

- Kache Palacio had a career-high two sacks.

-Wicks averaged 5.1 ypc; Morrow 3.7.

-WSU punted only two times, while Oregon punted on four occasions.

-Morrow led the Cougs in all-purpose yards, with 177 hashes (33 run, 79 receiving, 65 KOR).

-River Cracraft, the guy Halliday goes to when he needs it most, had eight catches for 107 yards to lead WSU. He pulled in two absolute beauties back-to-back at end of third quarter, leading to a WSU field goal.

-Dom Williams had two early TDs, finishing with five catches.

-Vince Mayle started out the night with a bang. First he ripped off a first down on a sweep (technically a pass), had a monster special teams tackle on a kickoff that put the Ducks on their own 14-yard line, and continued to make several yards after the catch when it looked like he was stopped.

-WSU ran 80 plays to Oregon’s 67 but the time of possession evened out in the second half – WSU finished with 31:47, Oregon with 28:13.

- Halliday has 9,332 career passing yards, second-most in WSU history (Alex Brink, 10,913) and 17th-most in Pac-12 history.

- Halliday’s four touchdown passes upped his career total to 74, passing Jason Gesser for second all-time in school history.

Leading tacklers :
Jeremiah Allison, 10; Darryl Monroe, 10; Cyrus Coen, 9; Daquawn Brown 8; Sulaiman Hameed, 6. Hameed by the way had his redshirt removed, making his collegiate debut on Saturday night.

Misleading stat of the game
WSU had 11 tackles for loss, an exceptional total that stood in stark contrast to how Mariota conversely ripped off so many big runs. Still, it’s worth noting again that Mariota is a unique player blessed with exceptional speed for a quarterback, and also what a good game the Cougar front seven played against the Ducks.

Play of the Game
You hate to mention it, you really do, especially when there were so many Cougar plays on offense and defense that could fit here. But to ignore it would make for a gaping hole in this story. The stat book will show on the Cougs’ final drive to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, on third-and-13 at the Oregon 38-yard line, Connor Halliday’s pass to Isiah Myers was incomplete. What everyone else saw, in the stadium and also live and on TV replay, was Myers get flat out mugged before the ball arrived -- blatant pass interference that drew no flag. It’s unfortunate such an egregious miss would come at such a crucial moment - the next play Halliday was sacked and the game was effectively decided. Replays showed the refs also blew a grounding call on Mariota where the ball never reached the line of scrimmage. It should have put the Ducks back at the 32-yard line, instead they lined up the next play from the 12-yard line. On the next snap, Mariota hit a wide open receiver to go up 21-14.

Injuries : Hameed left with what looked like a shoulder injury but returned later. Hameed played well in his first start until the end, when he committed an unnecessary personal foul by slinging the Duck receiver out of bounds. That said, he was in on a number of solid plays, including the big hit where he got dinged up and allowed no gain on the play.

Up next: Utah (3-0) who beat Michigan on the road 26-10 Saturday.

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