Cougar Confidential: Mkristo Bruce and others analyze win

WASHINGTON STATE's victory over Idaho on Saturday afternoon might have, at long last, turned this season in a positive direction. In the eyes of Mkristo Bruce, Deron Pointer, Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Joshua Duin, the shift in playing "smash-mouth football" worked, but there's still plenty to clean up on defense.

Mkristo Bruce (DE 2002-2006, 2-time All-Pac-10)

"(It was) a high scoring game that could have been much more clean. I saw a defense that showed some great flashes but gave up way too many third-and-long conversions. Frankie Luvu become a star and laid wood all over Martin Stadium! This LB flew around with his hat on fire all game. I will be keeping my eye on this 6-2 junior out of Samoa. Big No. 92, Robert Barber, had a field goal block and plugged plenty of gaps.

"As for the D-line, I was hoping for much more pressure than WSU have gotten in the first two games this year. The (third-year) sophomore DE Hercules Mata'afa was consistent with some flashes to the QB and plays in the backfield. But overall, not too much pressure on the QB. The opposing teams have had way too much time to pick and chose their targets. This also leaves our secondary exposed for big plays. For WSU to be successful in the Pac-12 this year, the Cougs need to get to the quarterback better."

What's it like to watch Cougar football from the stands?

"Now (that I'm) a season ticket holder, it is very different being in the stands in Martin Stadium looking down vs. standing in the middle of the field on third-and-long looking up into a packed house, Coug chomping and waiting to hear a 'Nooooooooooo Gain.'"

Alex Hoffman-Ellis (LB 2008-2011, currently with Edmonton of the CFL)

"I will say from a body language standpoint, they came out kind of flat on defense. Those first couple of drives let Idaho kind of march down the field. They run to the ball well, but I don't think they arrived with necessarily bad intentions, if you know what I mean: Arrive and do some damage and make high energy plays.

"After those first two drives, I wondered if those guys were excited to play. Do they love when their teammates make plays? Do those guys like each other on the field? That was my first impression watching the defense.

"When a guy makes a play for a minimal gain, celebrate with him. Above everything, football is supposed to be fun, especially in college you should have fun with your teammates - your brothers. It took them awhile to bring that energy.

"The D-line was getting good penetration. Any time you're shutting down the run game, the D-line is doing their job and making it easy for the linebackers. They did a good job making them go East and West (effectively) taking the run away from Idaho making them pass the ball. 

"I just thought they were kind of flat right up to the special teams play where Barber blocked the field goal and Marcellus Pippins returned it for a touchdown. It's special teams, but that's really a defensive play right there. That kind of got them energy for the rest of the game for the defense. After that I saw a lot better energy and good leadership out of Peyton Pelluer

"Shalom Luani is such an impact player. It doesn't matter where he lines up. He's an exception and arrives with bad intentions. He's not hesitant, and he's not letting the offense dictate. No matter where Luani's at he's playing with reckless abandon. 

"Jalen Thompson made a great pass breakup in the second quarter. He got up with a little swagger. I like that. And there was a play when Idaho was in the red zone where Isaac Dotson shot the gap for a TFL, got up and celebrated with Peyton. I like to see when guys make a play, they celebrate with their defense which gets the crowd going, too. A hyped up defense and the crowd going, that's tough to combat as an offense.

"The offense did a good job running the ball coming out. That's something we're not used to seeing. You could see (the coaches) were emphasizing getting tougher. What better way to establish your toughness than smash-mouth football."

What would you suggest the Cougs work on going into their bye week?

"I hope that starting fast becomes an emphasis, especially with the defense. Be excited to play ball. It's one thing to be ready to go, but when you hit the field you've got to turn it up a notch and be ready to play the game with passion. Someone has to have that passion that's infectious and rubs off on the team. We've got to see more leadership. Not everyone can only lead by example. There's got to be a chief in the tribe who's vocal and will get things going, rally the guys."

Deron Pointer (WR 1991-1993, Copper Bowl)

"I loved the fact that the Cougars started off running the football. Watching the receivers blocking downfield was a joy to see and I'm sure the running backs loved their efforts. (That) really set up a lot of opportunities for receivers to create openings off the play fake. ...a great building block for WSU's next game.

"(Play calling was) much better, mixing it up between run and pass...taking what the defense gives you."

"Gabe Marks always looks good but Kyle Sweet made some clutch catches. Looking forward to River Cracraft to get rolling. If Cracraft starts getting it going, it will add a huge play-maker in the middle."

Joshua Duin (OL 2002-2006)

"Overall the offensive line played well. It’s hard to not be excited about a 50-point win and 228 yards rushing. That said, I think they did what they needed to do vs. a team they are better than. Idaho’s game plan helped them.

"For the third game this season we have seen what other coaches think they need to do to limit our offense: a 3-man rush with 8 in coverage. At times our guards looked bored in pass-pro, deciding who to chip. In the run game, we saw a 5-man box most of the game. On fourth-and-one, Idaho lined up with a 4-man box despite WSU having a RB in the formation.

"The OL hasn’t been tested too much this year and if Oregon can get to Luke Falk with a 3-man rush there won’t be a lot of room for WR’s.

"Play calling: In the second half WSU ran the ball downhill between the tackles! I was so frustrated in the Boise State game watching backs try to get to the corner vs. a 5-man box (essentially running to where the defense lined up).

"James Williams (pictured above) looks every bit what that coaches say he is, and I love it. I'll take 6-yard runs up the gut every time vs. a bubble screen “run play”. How many times has a WR gotten shaken up standing still and taking a shot from a safety flying full speed at him on a bubble screen?

The best way to get room on the outside to take some deep shots WSU needs is to force teams to put guys back in the box."

"Last thought: Is it just my poor memory or has WSU run a stretch or goal line fade out of the diamond formation every time? I get it’s a tendency breaker, but I am not sure it fits WSU's system and so far it has been very predictable."

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