5 Takeaways: Wazzu's first quarter problem

PULLMAN— Connor Halliday termed it "weird" the Cougar offense has started off slowly much of this season. And he's right -- for how explosive WSU can be, the Cougars this season have scored more than twice as many points in the second quarter (89) as they have in the first (41).

Early deficits:
Falling behind early this season has crippled the Cougars to the point that all they have accomplished during the practice week falls by the wayside on Saturday. They don't play like they practice, something Mike Leach has lamented not just this season but his first two years in Pullman as well.

Slow starts have been a problem going back to the opener. Against Rutgers, Nevada and Stanford, WSU fell behind by two scores early. Against Utah, the Cougs dug a 21-0 hole before coming back to win. The Cougs on Saturday fell (astonishingly) behind Arizona 31-0 before they finally got on the board at the 6:36 mark in the second quarter.

Although a loss, the Cougars might have played their best against Oregon when they scored first and hung around for the entire game -- scoring often and executing well on each play. The Cougars all but sniffed out a win against Cal by building an early 10-0 lead. They got scorched on defense in the second half but even then, WSU's offense had the game in hand before a missed 19-yard field goal. It's an old football bromide - early leads are critical to winning football games and WSU isn't getting enough of them.

Tattered defense:
This is a defensive unit plagued by youth and injury. Against Arizona, the Cougars started a different nose tackle in Destiny Vaeao and CB Charleston White was out after being injured against Stanford. True freshman Pat Porter started in White's place and the Wildcats worked on milking mistakes out of the young cornerback.

Peyton Pelluer started in place of Darryl Monroe, who was moved the second-string but recorded six total tackles vs. Arizona, third-most for the Cougars. But Monroe, as Jason Gesser pointed out on the radio broadcast, overran a number of ballcarriers.

The Cougar team gave up points on Arizona’s first five drives, (including the punt return) and four more second-half touchdowns buried the Cougars.

Halliday’s interceptions matter:
The redshirt senior’s turnovers have been fewer this season, (32 TDs, 10 INTs) but the two he threw against the Wildcats proved costly.

His first interception led to a 12-play touchdown drive by Arizona to make it 31-0, his second led to a 6-play touchdown drive to make it 52-16. It’s not like the game was ever close, but shoulders sagged after each miscue. Leach noted the Cougars did a poor job of moving onto the next play, and spent too much time dwelling on the mistakes.

(To be fair, one interception Saturday looked like it might have been on the receiver, on a back shoulder fade where quarterback and wide receiver weren't on the same page.)

Nobody is safe:
Late in the third quarter and trailing 45-16, cornerback Daquawn Brown committed back-to-back penalties and was promptly becnhed. True freshman Kevin Griffin came in and just like that, he was no longer redshirting.

Leach said after the game the players’ focus and technique broke down as frustrations rose. He also said Brown's penalties might not have affected the outcome, but they will definitely be addressed by Leach with Brown. The pass interference penalty followed by a personal foul gave the Wildcats solid chunks of yardage that eventually allowed them to score a touchdown following the interception from Halliday (pictured above with Gerard Wicks.)

The desire is there, the results ultimately are not:
Leach said the Cougars played too precisely and that pursuit of perfection created hesitation. And maybe that's just the price of youth. But there are a number of veterans who also look to be playing with hesitation.

It also is clear, following the losses to Stanford and Arizona, that Leach isn't taken with the idea of giving backup QB Luke Falk reps when the game is out of reach. On the other hand, Leach wants the players to have the mentality of never accepting a loss until the final gun, no matter the score -- the two onsides kicks Saturday being good examples. But it's a fine line.

“I think we spend too much time worrying about results rather than how we’re planning to get there,” Leach said.


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