Cougar D stands tall in the end

PULLMAN – In a way, it ended up being one of the more impressive games in recent memory for the Cougar D. The one stat that matters most at the end of the day is of course points, and the Washington State stop corps didn’t allow a single one of ‘em over the last three quarters in the 31-14 victory over Wyoming.

There was no shortage of individual performances that made for the collective goose egg dished out by the defense over the final 45 minutes-plus. But it didn’t start out that way.

“Wyoming played harder than us in the first half,” Mike Leach said. “I thought our defensive unit responded well in the second half.”

Leach said both the o-line and d-line weren’t playing nearly up to their abilities in the first half – an ongoing concern with the Cougs (again) coming out flat in their own house. The d-line struggled mightily to stay at home or gain penetration over the first 30 minutes. But then things turned around for defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s troops.

“Leverage was a huge issue for us in the first half,” defensive Darryl Paulo said. “(Coach) Grinch came in really mad about that. We came back out and kept contain and leverage on the outside.”

Leach also gave props to the d-line for fixing their issues for the second half. Well, sort of.

“I thought after halftime the d-line played well,” he observed wryly.

The turning point was when the Cougar D forced a field goal attempt with 9:05 left in the second quarter. Wyoming had scored touchdowns on two of its first three drives. But after holding firm on third down on Drive No. 4, nose tackle Robert Barber forced his way through the line and stuck up a big hand up for the block.

“Blocking a kick builds a lot of momentum,” Paulo said. “First, they were marching down the field. Then, just making them attempt the field goal is huge. We don’t want to give up any score, but a field goal is better than a touchdown. But then to block the kick, that’s huge for us.”

Middle linebacker Peyton Pelluer had his best game as a Cougar. He flew around, packed into gaps, made hits that made people go “OH DAY-AMN -- and it showed in the stat sheet: 14 tackles (nine solo) with 3.5 tackles for loss. Both were career highs for the third-year sophomore.

Pelluer’s impact was most felt on Wyoming’s first two drives of the second half. On the first, Pelluer was in on all three stops on Wyoming’s three-and-out. Then, with Wyoming going for it on fourth-and-two from WSU’s 28-yard line, Pelluer tackled the ball carrier for a loss of two.

“I think (Pelluer) played well the whole game,” Leach said. “He’s a very intense player, and he’s a good example for some of these guys to look up to. He’s been an over-achiever since he got here, and he plays extremely hard.”

From this chair, Pelluer also showed what can be accomplished when a defender stops thinking too much and instead just reacts.

“I love giving the offense an opportunity to get back out there,” Pelluer said simply.

Jeremiah Allison led the team in tackles the first two weeks but seemed perfectly happy to see Pelluer notch 14 to his six against Wyoming, calling his fellow linebacker “a stud” after the game. Allison capped off the win with a sweet pick to end Wyoming’s last hope, returning it 44 yards to the Wyoming 12-yard line.

The Cougar D still hasn’t played a complete game, but they ultimately stood tall against Wyoming after the early miscues. Twitter was alive with criticism of Grinch early but by the time the clock hit zeros, he and the Cougar defense were deserving of taking a bow.

After the bye week, the games get tougher with the beginning of Pac-12 play at Cal. But as long as the defense can find a way like they did Saturday, there are a number of crimson conference wins to be had.

  • Nickel back Isaac Dotson missed practice Wednesday and Thursday and did not play in the game. When asked why Dotson didn’t start, Leach said “Because we selected others to start instead.”

  • Logan Tago got his first career start with Dotson out but Parker Henry played a lot of turns there. Henry racked up six tackles including one for loss. Tago was credited with one stop.

  • Dom Williams snagged his 22nd career TD, tying him with legendary Hugh Campbell for third-most in WSU history.

  • Ivan McLennan got his first sack of the season, and then tacked on two more. He now has 8.5 for his career. He also became the first Cougar since linebacker Andy Mattingly to notch three sacks in a game (2007, ASU). McLennan's fellow Rush teammate, Kache Palacio had two sacks of his own.

  • Shalom Luani racked up 11 tackles, a career high, and had his first forced fumble on a monster hit in the fourth quarter. WSU d-lineman Hercules Mata’afa recovered the fumble and the Cougs kicked a field goal to make it a two score lead at 24-14.

  • Mata’afa may have earned more playing time with his play in the second half. His stat line didn’t tell the story. He was only credited with one tackle but it was for loss and he had a QB hurry, the only one of the night for WSU.

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