Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Even though they surrendered 554 yards against UCLA, Washington State's defense did more than enough in win

IT FEELS ODD to lavish praise on a Washington State defense that often struggled to slow true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen. But that is what ESPN's broadcast team of Dave Pasch, Brian Griese and Tom Luginbill did Saturday night as the Cougars pulled off a 31-27 win against No. 18 UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

Yes, WSU surrendered 554 yards of total offense. But the ESPN crew was correct in their assessment for other reasons. While the most vivid memory for the crimson-hued faithful will be Luke Falk's 21-yard touchdown pass to Gabe Marks with 3 seconds remaining for the go-ahead score, it was the defense that put the Cougars in position to win.
As the offense struggled to move the ball in the face of strong Bruins' pressure during the first half, the defense made some crucial stops that kept WSU's deficit manageable. On its first two possessions, Rosen drove UCLA inside the Cougars' 5-yard line. Despite that, the Bruins were forced to settle for Ka'imi Fairbairn field goals.
It was a common story line throughout the game for the Bruins. When Rosen, who completed 33 of 57 passes for 340 yards, was not netting first downs with his arm, he was doing it with his scrambling ability. He finished with 70 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Standout running back Paul Perkins also added a game-high 121 yards on 20 carries.
But for all of the yards it surrendered, WSU made up for it with big plays. The Cougars generated an astounding six tackles-for-loss. Junior college transfer Shalom Luani accounted for two of those. Luani, a safety, has been one of this season's biggest revelations.
One particular sequence during the third quarter against UCLA stood out. On first down, Luani met Perkins for a 4-yard loss. But Rosen responded with a 12-yard completion to Perkins to set up third-and-2 at the Bruins' 48.
Third-and-short. No problem.
Luani met Perkins in the backfield for a 1-yard loss to force a punt.
In addition to the physicality he brings to the defense -- coach Mike Leach said Luani and current Arizona Cardinals standout Deone Bucannon are the hardest hitters he has had at WSU -- Luani also is a playmaker. Luani, who secured the Cougars' upset Oct. 10 at Oregon with an interception, leads the team in that statistic with three. He also is tied with middle linebacker Peyton Pelluer with two forced fumbles.
Neither Luani nor Pelluer recorded a forced fumble against the Bruins -- defensive lineman Hercules Mata'afa and linebacker Nate DeRider did -- but both made an impact. Pelluer had a team-high eight tackles and leads WSU with 84 this season. He also has 9 1/2 tackles-for-loss, which is second on the team behind defensive lineman Darryl Paulo (10.5).
Even though he only is a redshirt sophomore, Pelluer might be playing the position as well as anyone in the program since Don Jackson produced 10 tackles-for-loss and a team-high 100 tackles for the Cougars in 2003.
And, not coincidentally, WSU (7-3 overall, 5-2 Pac-12) has won its most games since Jackson's team produced 10 victories.

Cougfan Top Stories