5 takeaways from WSU loss at ASU

NOT MANY QUARTERBACKS throw for more than 600 yards and still lose the game. Luke Falk and Connor Halliday have both done it this season. In the case of the Cougars, the numbers aren't indicative of the truth, but here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game that don’t lie at all.

1. JUST PRETTY NUMBERS
The Cougars are so entrenched in their passing ways that they neglected to try running the ball against an Arizona State defense ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rushing defense. Heading into the game, the Sun Devils were giving up 173.5 yards per game on the ground. The Cougars constantly preach that they will stick with what they do and make the other team stop it ... and end up trapped in their own ways.

Admittedly, Jamal Morrow played well in the receiving game, which is how the Cougars simulate the run with their running backs. Morrow caught four passes for 58 yards, but he added 10 carries for only 37 yards, his longest run of the day being a 13-yarder. Falk’s 601 passing yards and three touchdowns look wonderful, but they are just glittering numbers on a page that also included vulnerabilities.

2. FALK IS NOT INFALLIBLE
Going along with those passing numbers, Falk was intercepted four times by four different defenders. He had only thrown one interception this year prior to his performance at Arizona State. Filling in for the injured Halliday on the fly against USC, Falk impressed with 346 yards, two touchdowns, and the one other pick he threw this season. Against Oregon State in his first career start, Falk dazzled with 471 passing yards, five passing touchdowns -- and no interceptions.

Coach Mike Leach said after the game that it doesn't matter how explosive an offense is, or how many yards it generates. A team simply cannot turn the ball over, he said.

3. Mayle BOLSTERS HIS BILETNIKOFF CHANCES
One man who is benefiting from the pass-heavy offense is Vince Mayle (pictured above), who hauled in 15 passes for 252 yards. He has a school-record 101 receptions this season, and came close to beating his season high of receiving yards against Cal (263). His 15 receptions were the most any Cougar receiver has ever recorded in a game.

If this year's Biletnikoff Award is awarded to the most “outstanding” receiver, it would be difficult to find one who stands out more than Mayle, both physically and by performance.

4. DEFENSE CAN FUNCTION WITHOUT BROWN
Early on, the game actually looked like it could turn into a blowout at the hands of the Cougars. They were up 21-7 with less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter. Turnovers helped the Sun Devils to creep within three by the end of the half, but without sophomore cornerback Daquawn Brown or nose tackle Toni Pole playing, that is a strong performance by the WSU defense. It is also a testament that true freshman Marcellus Pippins can start and play well under pressure.

In fact, the defense wilted in the second half as the Cougars were outscored 31-7. That Cougar defensive unit was probably exhausted by the three second-half turnovers, but it certainly wasn’t any worse with or without Brown in the game.

5. TURNOVERS WOULD HAVE HELPED
While the Sun Devils continued to keep their collective foot on the gas pedal, the Cougars lost steam in both the offensive and defensive phases of the game. That was aided by the fact that the Cougars did not force any turnovers in the game. The Cougars entered the game ranked last in the conference in turnover margin, having forced seven turnovers and lost 17. That margin got wider on Saturday, despite significant pressure from the WSU defensive line, which sacked Taylor Kelly five times.

Leach said the Cougars fell apart after the offense turned the ball over, and it didn't matter where the Sun Devils took over with the ball. ASU scored on all five turnovers, and Leach felt the team gave up in the face of adversity.

Strong pressure usually causes turnovers, as Falk found out all too well on Saturday, being sacked six times himself. Yet, four sacks against Oregon State didn’t help the Cougars force any turnovers, either. Falk was almost perfect in that game against the Beavers, and the Cougars narrowly escaped with a win without forcing a turnover. This time, they were exposed. Something has to give, because clearly opponents are not giving the ball away anytime soon to the Cougars.


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