The 2016 WSU Cougars are coming off a 9-4, Sun Bowl Championship season. And Retherford (pictured above) knows first hand what it’s like to be part of a team carrying high expectations from fans. He was part of the 8-3-1 Washington State team that played in the school's first postseason appearance in 50 years.
As good as the 1981 Holiday Bowl team was, virtually everyone believed the 1982 would be even better because of the guys returning. Things didn’t go that way for coach Jim Walden and the Cougs. The roster was decimated by 22 players put on the shelf by a variety of injuries. Despite a 3-7-1 campaign, WSU closed out that season with a 24-20 Apple Cup victory over No. 3 ranked Washington, in large part to getting 17 players back for that final game on the schedule.
Last season the Cougs bounced back with nine wins after opening up with a loss. No one can know for certain what will happen the rest of the way for this WSU team, but it's much too soon to judge a team that has yet to establish their own identity.
Cutting through some of the noise being made after yet another season opening loss by a Mike Leach team, no question WSU won’t win many games if their defense surrenders 606 yards of total offense. Such futility begs the question, “What happened to a defense that was supposed to be upgraded in speed and athletic talent?”
“Looking at (WSU’s) DB’s, I see a lot of speed and a lot of talent but I also see the same (stuff) that just chaps my britches every time I see it happen,” began Retherford’s analysis of the Cougar secondary. “I’m talking about missed tackles and not wrapping up.”
Like it or not, today’s young players can and will be influenced by the attention they garner from televised highlights featuring spectacular plays. Retherford sees a clear separation between fundamental football and making sensational plays.
“Just trying to put your shoulder or helmet into somebody to make that big Pac-12 devastating, crushing hit is risky business," said Retherford. "And I attribute the number of missed tackles (against EWU) to not form tackling. Now that takes away from that spectacular looking hit because you lay them out flat on the ground and go sliding across them until you’re across their body and your momentum will carry you plum across them. That’s just making a tackle. You won’t have spectacular hits when you’re wrapping up, but you make consistent tackles with that technique.”
Three of the four starting defensive backs for the Cougs were either new to the roster or a backup last year. That level of inexperience was conceded by Leach in his postgame comments. WSU’s head man wasn’t alone in that review.
“I agree with coach Leach that they had a little stage fright,” echoed Retherford. But he felt there was a larger concern with the way Washington State players began the first game of 2016 on their home turf.
“I think they went in without any fire in their britches," said Retherford.
It might have been a matter of on-the-job training for the Cougar secondary who may not face an individual talent comparable to EWU's Cooper Kupp until they travel to Palo Alto on October 8th. Their inexperience was exposed by lack of pressure from the WSU defensive front.
“We didn’t get a rush on the quarterback," said Retherford. "He was getting too much time. I think their receiver (Cooper Kupp) is on par with (Christian McAffrey) of Stanford and on par with Gabe Marks when he’s healthy. When you match up with certain individuals that are on another level, you can’t make any mistakes with footwork. One little hesitation and they’ve got two strides on you.”
Turning to the other side of the ball, the Air Raid offense employed by Leach filled up the stat sheet once again. That fact is one which can be built upon during the coming week of preparation for Washington State’s next game against Boise State. Retherford clearly believes the Air Raid gives WSU an advantage.
“As a defensive back, I know that when you send out five receivers you’re going to have one or two open. Somebody is going to get beat by a couple of strides," said Retherford.
When you step back and look at the numbers Luke Falk put up, 41 completions on 51 attempts for 418-yards and 4 touchdowns, improvement from week one to week two for the Cougs should spell trouble for every opponent remaining. As good as those passing stats are, there were many expecting to see WSU running backs carrying the ball more. That belief was fed by the fall camp battle among four outstanding running backs vying for three spots in the rotation.
“If we would mix it up a little, especially on those plays when you’re expected to throw the ball you might keep the defense on their heels," said Retherford.
Leach and his staff may well agree with Retherford when assessing play selection after they review video of Saturday’s loss.
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