Monday Morning Quarterbacking with Alex Brink

AS ROUGH AS the Stanford loss was, the Cougars were still very much in the ball game in the fourth quarter. In watching the game develop and seeing what the Cougars were doing, here are the major things stood out to me on each side of the ball.

Unfortunately the game Friday night against Stanford went about how I expected in the end. Washington State was outclassed on the offense line and didn't stand a chance on defense against the Cardinal run game. Though not nearly as potent as years past, Stanford backs were still able to rack up 193 yards, which then led to big chunks of yardage off of play-action passes.

Defense
Need more man coverage: It is getting to a point where the Cougar defense is going to need to make some fundamental changes to find a way to slow opposing offenses down.

WSU played a lot of Cover-4 in an attempt to get the safeties involved in the run game Friday night. This allowed Stanford to use play action to draw them down and then throw over the top -- similar to the case of "bad eyes" we saw against Oregon.

If Mike Breske elects to play more man coverage it should eliminate the secondary's propensity to peek in the backfield because they will be only focused on their man. Although this may open the defense to some big plays, they are already giving up so many in zone that I believe the reward is bigger than the risk.

This also highlights the strengths of Daquawn Brown and gives him some chances to force turnovers, something WSU badly needs. Brown had a pretty solid game against the Cardinal, especially when matched up against bigger receivers.

Blitz risk: The game plan against Stanford appeared to be to get pressure or stop the run out of their 3-4 front with 2-man inside blitzes.

The "Cross Axe" or "Cross Dog" is when both inside linebackers hit the inside A gaps opposite of their alignment, hoping to create confusion by crossing each other. Unfortunately for Wazzu, Stanford opted for more outside zones and ripped off a number of big runs against the blitz. We saw it on their first drive when Barry Sanders Jr. gained a first down on first-and-25.

It is tough to stay sound defensively against the run when blitzing from a three down lineman front because it is very easy for linebackers to get knocked out of the gap they are supposed to protect. This allows large holes to be opened for the running back.

Offense
No physical presence: It goes without saying that the WSU offensive line couldn't hang with the physical nature of the Stanford defensive line. What was disappointing to me was how the Cougar receivers never established their physical presence during the game.

I always thought this group was strong at blocking the point of attack for screens and quick passes but they really struggled Friday night. This was really a big reason Washington State averaged its lowest yards per play in the Mike Leach era.

Stanford consistently made open field tackles and rallied to the football with multiple defenders. In addition, the Cougar receivers did a poor job fighting through man coverage and making contested catches. They have to be more consistent in this area as teams with better secondaries are not just going to sit back and play zone coverage all night.

Stepping up in the pocket: Friday at the Farm was a tough night to play quarterback. Connor Halliday was consistently under siege from a tremendous Stanford defensive line. However, I felt that he could have done a better job of stepping up through the pocket to deliver throws.

Halliday tends to drift backwards and to the side when he feels pressure which actually makes it easier for a hard charging defensive line to get to the quarterback.

By stepping up in the pocket sometimes you will be able to avoid rushers who can't change direction and then deliver the football accurately without throwing off your back foot.

Also, when a team is playing a lot of man coverage the quarterback may be able to scramble forward for positive yards because the middle of the field is so open once you get past the defensive line. Now this was clearly not the only reason the Cardinal accounted for four sacks and multiple pressures, but it is one thing Halliday could have controlled to make is day a little easier.

Final Thoughts:
Washington State is at a tipping point in their season. Friday night was a winnable game even though they did not match up particularly well with the Cardinal. That being said, they battled all night and didn't quit.

This is a better football team than their record shows but they have to find ways to finish games.

I am very interested to see how the Cougars are going to respond coming off a bye week at home vs. No. 16 Arizona. Hopefully, a little home cooking is just what they need to get back on track.

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 and then the past two seasons with Montreal. He also is the head quarterbacks coach for the Barton Football Academy based in Portland and does a weekly Pac-12 podcast . He can be found on twitter at @AlexBrink10.


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