5 takeaways from WSU win over Utah

THE PROVERBIAL SNOWBALL EFFECT was in full force in the first quarter of the WSU-Utah game. First going against the Cougs was a pick-6 for a TD, then a punt was returned for a TD, and then a long run couldn’t be stopped and went to the house. That list could have gone on and on. But it didn’t. Here's why, and here are our five big takeaways from the Cougs' comeback win.

The Cougars showed on Saturday night that they could rally against a good team on the cusp of breaking into the top 25. And WSU did it just one week after they proved they could hang from the get-go with the No. 2 ranked team in the country. But in going a little deeper, here are five takeaways to ponder until the Cougars play again at home against Cal.

1. Have the Cougs found their secondary combo?

Consider this: Since the season began, the Cougs have replaced three-quarters of their starting secondary. Only corner Daquawn Brown has remained a constant. And a bad as it was the week before, the young guns turned it around against the Utes. Sulaiman Hameed and Darius Lemora started at the safety positions on Saturday -- the real surprise here was how well they limited Utah's passing game without much impact from former starter Taylor Taliulu, who still played. Each had a pass break-up and Lemora had six tackles (four solo) and Hameed had three solo stops. Now add in rock solid games from Brown (nine tackles) and fellow corner Charleston White, who had two critical fourth quarter pass break-ups and three total, and no wonder Leach said after the game that this was the most complete game he has seen by the defense since he has been here. It should be interesting to see what DB combination Mike Breske trots out in the next matchup -- or if it stays the same.

2. Turn 'em loose!

Mike Leach said after the game that the defense wanted to stop Utah from running the ball, as well as pressure Travis Wilson in the backfield. Both endeavors could be considered a success, and certainly the second one. Utah QB Travis Wilson and his receivers felt the crimson heat. Wilson finished under 50 percent at 18-38 for 165 yards and no TDs. And that was because of how flat-out aggressive the Cougar defense was in this game. Breske has said since Day One he’s about blitzing and pressure, but also that he hasn’t had the talent to play that style. Against Utah, the Cougs almost always sent more that their down linemen into the breech and even to perhaps unprecedented levels in the Leach era. The results showed up in plays like Ivan McLennan's, who found his way into the backfield at one point and chased Wilson to the other end of the sideline before the quarterback finally threw it away. Brown blew up a screen pass by anticipating the play, almost certainly because his own team’s offense runs the same sort of play and he is used to seeing it. At another point in the game, Wilson was able to escape pressure from the Cougar defense, but the oncoming rush forced him to react and he fell down with the swampy field underneath his feet.

Subtracting the 76-yard touchdown run that Devontae Booker broke off in the first quarter, the running games were virtually equal statistically. In fact, WSU came out a little bit better (if you can overlook that one): Booker and Poole ran the ball 28 times for 111 yards without it, compared to Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow’s total of 19 rushes for 104 yards.

3. Ground Raid

The young running backs, Morrow and Wicks, rose to the occasion in conditions that weren’t very conducive for much of anything, and especially not for passing the ball. The Cougars showed they could run the ball when they needed to do so behind Morrow and Wicks, who put up their most rushing yards this season (19 carries, 104 hashes.) The only time they looked vulnerable was at the end when the Cougars were trying to run out the clock, as Utah stuffed the box and fired off the edge. But at the end of the day, Halliday sung the praises of the running backs at the post game press conference and for good reason. Might we see more than 11 carries for Wicks, eight for Morrow next week at home against Cal? Perhaps not. This is the Air Raid and it is predicated on a short, distribution passing attack. But when you've got two running backs averaging 5.1 and 6.0 ypc, I believe we can slso say this: The ground game has now officially become staple in the WSU Air Raid in 2014.

4. The River Clyde or The River Clutch?

Although wide receiver River Cracraft is named after the River Clyde in Scotland, his new middle name might need to be Clutch. Cracraft turned in six -- count 'em, six -- third down conversions for Halliday and the Cougs, (and had two other receptions that resulted in first downs.) He finished with game highs in receptions and yards -- nine grabs for 126 yards, making him the WSU receiving leader for the second consecutive game. (I have to mention: Vince Mayle was right behind him with eight for 120 yards and 2 TDs). But with Cracraft, four of those nine catches were in the fourth quarter when the Cougars absolutely needed to keep drive alive and score. And it's not like a lot of his grabs were easy ones where he's wide open. No, many of them were thrown into tight windows with good coverage and Cracraft in full-on extension mode.

5. From reserve to leading tackler ... again

Don't look now but WIL Jeremiah Allison (pictured above) has been the Cougs' leading tackler the past two weeks after being down on the depth chart his first three seasons. The junior against Utah racked up 13 tackles (five solo) with two tackles-for-loss and combined on a sack. He's now the Cougs' third-leading tackler on the season (32) behind Darryl Monroe (42) and Brown (44) and he's flying to the football. Allison said after the game that the Cougs paid rapt attention to the rise-up board again, and that helped them to make one good play after another. In turn, that helped the Cougars rise up from the deep hole they dug for themselves in the first quarter when they fell behind by 21 points. In the past, the Cougs hung their heads when they fell way behind, or displayed frustration and fits of pique. But this Cougar team was able to put the abysmal first quarter in the past and focus on improving the rest of the game. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but this might be what Leach and the other coaches have spoken about often when they say the team needs to play one play at a time. And Allison is a darned good example of how a linebacker does exactly that.

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