5 WSU Takeaways: Big plays, takeaways missing

PULLMAN— The Cougars hung around against Stanford, just like their quarterback hung in the pocket as long as he could. But by the end both Connor Halliday and the Cougs were worn down and the 34-17 final score reflected just how handcuffed the WSU offense was by the Stanford defense. Here are CF.C’s five takeaways headed into the bye week.

Big plays needed
Stanford was the best team WSU has played this season and Connor Halliday was left limping from an aggressive defensive front that ran roughshod over the WSU o-line. Halliday showed frustration with his o-line protection during the game but post-game, he gave all credit to Stanford's defense and pass rush. Still, Halliday had barely any time to find his receivers, whom he said were open. The longest pass of the night for the Cougars was a 41-yarder to Vince Mayle that set up a touchdown, but that came in the first quarter. The next longest pass was to River Cracraft for 14 yards.

Halliday and the WSU offense were relegated to short throws to the boundary and middle all night long, and that made it difficult to move the ball with any consistency. WSU didn't even try to run, with only six RB carries all night -- and that allowed the Cardinal to control the war up front. Ultimately, the Cougars’ offense sputtered without the ability to stretch the field and Halliday was held to his lowest passing yards total of the season, with 292 throwing yards.

Special teams still need work
Despite the threat of Ty Montgomery in the return game, WSU elected to kick the ball to him , almost daring him to make them pay. During the practice week, linebackers coach Ken Wilson said Montgomery might be the best return man in the country, and the Cougars apparently wanted him to show them why. He returned three punts for 63 yards, and three kickoffs for 71 yards. True, he didn't find a final gap but he did plenty of damage.

Cougar defense hung tough in the second half
Charleston White took a scary hit from his own teammate, Darius Lemora, while covering a pass in the third quarter. He left and didn't return, which gave freshman Patrick Porter a chance to play in White’s place. Defensive coordinator Mike Breske said earlier in the week that Porter as the No. 3 corner needed game time to continue his progression, and he took advantage of the opportunity. Porter finished with two tackles, both solo, and a pass breakup. And it made sense that the Cardinal would try to target him instead of fellow cornerback Daquawn Brown, who was locking down receivers effectively throughout. It was the perfect example of what Mike Leach said after the game: "We have to stop being young."

It's still about the lines and turnovers
Halliday was sacked four times and under pressure and/or flushed out of the pocket many more times. And what has become painfully clear over the first seven games: this defense has shown little to no ability to force turnovers.

That said, the starting secondary is comprised of three freshmen and one sophomore. They're getting their butts handed to them while they’re young but all that schooling is going to pay off… the defensive backs in the Palouse Posse suffered similar indignities when they were force to play young. And this is just as athletic and talented a group. Just wait 'til the grow up a little bit more.

Stanford's lines were simply way more developed and it pointed out how young the Cougars still are. Stanford mauled WSU in '13 but this time around, WSU was within seven points late in the game. And that speaks to how far WSU has come, but also to how how far WSU had to go when Leach took over.

Fourth down swag
Leach and the Cougars were daring on fourth downs on Friday, and that (as well as some Stanford miscues) allowed them to stay in the game for so long. The Cougars were 4-for-5 rolling the dice, and perfect up until their final salvo when they could not overcome a 4th-and-15. All four of the fourth-down conversions resulted in scoring drives for the Cougars.

RiverCracraft set a WSU record with 14 grabs and Vince Mayle caused Stanford some problems but the WSU receivers had a number of dropped passes on the night and that could have made a difference on fourth down (and in getting to fourth down). The receivers as a whole just weren’t as sharp as they had been but it's also worth noting WSU was missing two potential starters in Kristoff Williams and Rickey Galvin.

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