Apple Cup Notebook: A failure to communicate

PULLMAN – Linebacker Peyton Pelluer said “a lack of communication” contributed to Washington State breakdowns on defense in Saturday’s Apple Cup. It’s difficult to argue with Pelluer.

After all, the Cougars couldn’t even get on the same page after the game when trying to explain how Washington tailback Dwayne Washington broke free for 51- and 60-yard touchdowns on the Huskies’ second play from scrimmage in each half.

“We weren’t lined up where we were supposed to be,” cornerback Daquawn Brown said.

“We were where we were supposed to be,” fellow cornerback Marcellus Pippins insisted, “we just didn’t execute.”

Coach Mike Leach sided with Pippins.

“We had guys in the gap,” Leach said, “they just didn’t make the tackle.”

Confusion also reigned on the offensive side of the ball. The Cougars had problems lining up at times – in the 12th and final game of the season – and senior wide receiver Isiah Myers seemed taken aback when a reporter asked him why WSU took a step back this season.

“I don’t think we took a step back at all,” Myers replied. “We lost some players, and we’re trying to fill those positions. I feel like we had an awesome season.”

Washington State’s “awesome season” included half as many wins as the year before, no bowl game, a second straight Apple Cup loss and a last-place finish (tied with Oregon State) in the North Division of the Pac-12 Conference.

WSU quarterback Luke Falk (pictured above) said “there’s no question it’d be a different game” if the Cougars had not failed to convert on fourth down on each of their first three possessions. All three drives ended with Falk incompletions, though Dom Williams dropped a perfectly thrown ball in the end zone on the second possession.

After making a remarkable starting debut in the win at Oregon State three weeks ago (471 yards and five touchdowns passing), Falk’s inexperience showed at times when Arizona State and Washington applied a stronger pass rush.

“I just need to read the field better,” said Falk, a redshirt freshman who had barely seen the field before replacing the injured Connor Halliday four games ago.

Falk and Myers refused to blame the sub-20’s temperatures for WSU’s spotty play on offense. The Cougars dropped several passes; went 1 for 10 on third down and 2 for 5 on fourth down; and did not score (avoiding Leach’s first shutout defeat in 13 years as a college head coach) until the final 10 minutes of the 31-13 loss.

“Football’s a cold-weather sport,” Falk said. “I just need to do a better job, and I will.”

“I’m not going to make excuses for anything,” Myers said, “but obviously, everybody knows it’s cold.”

THE 31 POINTS ALLOWED WAS the second-lowest total of the season for WSU. The Cougars beat Utah 28-27 on Sept. 27 in Salt Lake City.

“I thought the defense played good enough to give us an opportunity (to win),” Falk said.

The Huskies outgained WSU 437-376 in total yards, including 188-21 on the ground.

“Their offense was pretty stellar all night,” Pelluer said.

Interestingly, Brown said “it’s tough on any defense to be out there for so many plays,” but the Huskies only had a 78-67 edge in offensive plays. The plays count was 37-37 at the half, when WSU trailed 14-0.

WSU PLAYERS CAME MORE THAN halfway across the field prior to the start of the game to jaw with the Huskies, who seemed to initiate the confrontation. There appeared to be no physical contact, and no one seemed too hot and bothered afterwards.

“Just a lot of pent-up energy,” Pelluer said.

Brown said, “It actually gets me riled up more to see the opposition is ready, because I already know I’m ready.”

With seven tackles against the Huskies, Brown finished the season with a team-high 82. Jeremiah Allison wound up second with 78, followed by fellow linebacker Darryl Monroe with 70. Allison had five tackles Saturday, and Monroe had two.

Strong safety Taylor Taliulu led the Cougars in the Apple Cup with nine tackles. Pelluer and free safety Darius Lemora had eight.

Lemora was one of three freshmen in WSU’s starting lineup. Freshman running back Jamal Morrow, who started the first 11 games, made way for senior Theron West on Senior Night. The other senior starters were wide receivers Vince Mayle, Rickey Galvin and Myers, linebacker Cyrus Coen and nose tackle Toni Pole.

“There’s a ton of kids who probably played earlier than they should have (this season),” Leach said. “They’re going to develop their skills, and eventually some of them are gonna become great players, and some of them are gonna become good players.

“In the end, it’ll be a good team.”

HALLIDAY RECEIVED THE loudest ovation when WSU’s 14 seniors were introduced prior to the game. One of the seniors, defensive lineman Jeff Waldner, never played a single snap in five seasons according to the WSU Sports Information Department. Waldner starred at Olympia High School.

An enthusiastic ovation was accorded to former head coaches Mike Price and Bill Doba when they raised the Cougars flag before the opening kickoff.

FALK AND LEACH GAVE FULL props to Washington’s talented defensive line, anchored by nose tackle Danny Shelton. ESPN.com ranks the 6-foot-2, 339-pound senior the No. 12 overall prospect for the 2015 NFL draft.

Shelton had a little fun in the third quarter Saturday, suddenly hitting the ground and doing a barrel roll to his right prior to the snap. He wound up earning half a sack (one of four against Falk) on the play.

Shelton told Seattle’s KOMO Radio he was inspired to do the roll after teammate Hau’oli Kikaha claimed during practice that Shelton lacked athleticism.

“He was making fun of me,” Shelton claimed. “So I practiced it, but I forgot about it in the first half. Then Coach Choate (defensive line coach Jeff Choate, a former WSU assistant) reminded me. So I did it and made a play.”

Shelton is one of three Huskies whom ESPN.com predicts will be drafted in the first round. The others are linebacker Shaq Thompson (23rd overall) and cornerback Marcus Peters (27th). Peters was recently kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons.

ESPN.com lists nine Huskies and six Cougars as prospects for the 2015 draft. All six Cougars are listed as “borderline” prospects: Myers, Mayle, Halliday, Pole, wide receiver Kristoff Williams (who quit football this season due to recurring concussions) and reserve defensive lineman Lyman Faoliu.

Mayle boosted his single-season, school-record totals to 106 catches and 1,483 receiving yards. The former junior college standout played just two seasons at WSU, but he’s tied for seventh all-time with 148 catches and just missed the top 10 in career receiving yards at 2,022.

Myers finished in a fourth-place tie for career touchdown receptions with 19, and he’s sixth in career catches with 164. His season totals of 78 catches and 12 TD catches rank second.

Junior Dom Williams tied Myers’ 19 career touchdown catches Saturday. Williams also moved into a ninth-place tie with nine TD grabs in a single season. Junior defensive end-tackle Xavier Cooper climbed into eighth with 31.5 career tackles for loss.

Halliday, of course, owns virtually all of WSU’s major passing records.

RETURNING WSU PLAYERS will have a short offseason: Sunday. “We’ll start lifting (weights) on Monday,” Leach said.


COUGAR AND SAINTS GREAT STEVE GLEASON WAS INDUCTED INTO THE WSU ATHLETICS HALL OF FAME BETWEEN THE FIRST AND SECOND QUARTERS OF THE APPLE CUP. HE CONCLUDED HIS WSU CAREER IN 1999 AS ONE OF THE MOST PROLIFIC TACKLERS IN SCHOOL HISTORY. AS A SOPHOMORE IN 1997 HE HELPED LEAD THE COUGARS TO THEIR FIRST ROSE BOWL BERTH IN 67 YEARS.


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