Still, all three phases of the Cougar attack contributed to this win -- and even better was to watch everyone take part in the celebration. A short trip over from Moscow, I am sure, turned into a long trip home for the Vandals. Let’s take a look at what WSU hopes to continue the rest of this season.
After the Vandals had success moving the ball downfield for the first 1 ½ quarters, Idaho was lining up for a field goal to pull within a point. This is when big No. 92, Robert Barber, uses the oldest trick in the book and out-leverages the Idaho line and penetrating enough to get his paw on the ball. Some might say he expelled the ball from the Idaho special teams. (Come on. You know I had to).
This play was all the more impactful when you consider the storylines surrounding Barber’s presence on the field. The Cougs are fortunate No. 92 was playing because no one wanted to see the first half end with the score at 7-6.
Hammer Players: James Williams & Frankie Luvu
Williams’ first run of the game was an outside zone left on third-and-three. Taking his read steps Williams (pictured above) saw the hole open up and put his foot in the ground to get a first down. Cougar Nation, no doubt appreciates -- and is a little surprised – WSU running for a first down, but what was noticeable on this play is how Williams finished the run.
In football, every collision has a hammer and a nail. On this play Williams earned the first down, plus even more yardage, when he ran through the Idaho defender for extra yards. He didn’t shy away from the contact but was instead the hammer, and delivering the blow. The Cougs’ running back corps consists of hammers but on Saturday Williams offered evidence he can also be much more.
Idaho is not Pac-12 competition. But based on what I saw, this Cougar team will begin to rely on Williams to set the tone of who they are going forward. WSU has been searching for an identity. I believe they have found it.
Side note: I understand hurdling a defender looks cool and can show the flash of athleticism. But after Williams' failed hurdle attempt on the Cougar sideline, running backs coach Jim Mastro grabbed Williams and delivered the message: That it is not sound football. Hurdling is rarely successful and leaving your feet only increases the chances of injury. Attention Cougar ball carriers: Please be advised we respect your athleticism, but stay on the ground!
After the first Idaho drives, the Cougar defense finally began flying around -- and laying some wood! Much of that energy and confidence came from Wazzu’s Area 51: Frankie Luvu.
The third-year junior WIL was a much needed tone-setter on Saturday.
He started the same as the No. 2 weakside ‘backer behind Isaac Dotson but early in the second quarter, No. 51 keyed the defensive frenzy that was to come when he delivered a monster hit on Idaho QB Mason Petrino.
The defensive side of the ball feeds off one another for energy, and once Luvu made that hit everyone else on the Cougar stop corps smelled the blood in the water and began swarming.
The 1-2 Punch
Managing the clock and converting on third-and-short can be done in a lot of ways. Doing it via the ground instills fear on a defense: when a defender begins to guess about what’s coming, and also what dimension of the offense is coming, it really proves its worth. An example?
The Cougs lined up in a split-back formation down in the red zone, wideout Gabe Marks ran a nice slant route and Luke Falk hit him for a TD. Why was there a clear window for Falk there? How did the defense not prepare for Marks in the red zone?
WSU ran play action and the Idaho linebackers bit on it. This is what a run game can create.
I have been around offensive coordinators who say, ‘I hate this run play, but the play action off it is deadly.’ The idea is as old as the game itself: run the ball to set up your pass game. The Air Raid is never going to be a running offense, but with the weapons WSU has in the running backs, the ground game should definitely see more use.
Coug of the Game
I choose the overlooked hustle of Colton Teglovic on special teams.
It is not easy being the first man down on kickoff -- it takes natural speed but also an unnatural disregard for your body. This player is always on the lookout for a trap block hiding in wait, or responsible for taking on the wedge of blockers. Teglovic is a disruptive and productive member of the Cougar special teams and his energy on the coverage units is invaluable.
Player of the Game
The big ‘fellas up front: Andre Dillard, Cody O’Connell, Riley Sorenson, Eduardo Middleton and Cole Madison.
Say what you will about a three-man rush. Go ahead and tell these big guys they aren’t tough enough to get it done. I have been nothing but pleased with the growing unity on this o-line.
The No. 1 most important job they have this season is clear: protect Falk. Through three games Falk has had plenty of time and been kept off the turf. It gets a whole lot tougher from here on out with Pac-12 play but you can’t argue with the results so far.
What earns the game ball, though, is the No. 2 most important job: run blocking. Say hello to 228 rushing yards.
The holes were there on Saturday vs. Idaho and go back and watch the game again: on a few more runs, WSU left a lot of yards on the field. The unit is XXX-Large, and if they prove to get push in the weeks to come, WSU may have found the identity they’ve been searching for
O Captain my Captain!
One of the things I love about football is that it tests every aspect of what makes us human. It tests toughness and adaptability but also focus and resolve. I believe Falk was quoted this week asking the team leaders to be more in control of their emotions. Captain Jamal Morrow, you know what’s coming…
It was totally unacceptable to me to have WSU’s team leader be ejected from a game for nothing more than a lack of discipline and letting his ego get the best of him. Throwing a punch out of frustration allowed that Idaho player to beat Morrow the only way he could, by having Morrow beat yourself.
This moment of immaturity broke the rule when it comes to veterans: Never let your back up becomes the game’s star. In Morrow’s absence a young man named Williams shined even more brightly. One of the worst feelings a player can have is seeing his unit function smoothly without him. This reality shatters the facade that you are irreplaceable. I respect you, Jamal, and I believe you have shown over time that you are a solid leader but never forget this: a reputation is built over years and lost in a moment.
Bye Week Buy: WSU field goal team
Don’t look now but WSU has missed a field goal in every game this season. With the bye week here, this unit must be the focus of improvement.
Fans tend to focus 100 percent on the guy booting the ball but not all can be blamed on the kicker. Having snapped the ball in the past, I know how precise the sequence is -- and that the snap, hold, kick trio must be in sync. This week, the trio of K Erik Powell, holder Kaleb Fossum and long snapper Lucas Gravelle need to get their formula down.
If Leach has any questions or doubts when it comes to a field goal/punt, he has shown over the years there is no chance he won’t take on fourth down – regardless of yardage needed or where the Cougs are on the field. Going into Pac-12 play, WSU will need these critical three point chunks to cap off drives. The unit needs to understand close games, win or lose, will often be decided by a foot.
A 1-2 record is not the start the Cougar faithful envisioned. But in context, the Cougars have shown they have the ability to move the ball on offense, the tenacity to take the ball away on defense, and they have been forced to experience resolve as a team.
If this 2016 team can find its leaders, produced a more balanced offensive attack and get the communication settled on defense, the Cougs have the ability to go on a run. The beauty is, all they have to do is get better this week.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jed Collins, 30, spent seven seasons in the NFL with eight teams, working his way from undrafted free agent and practice squad player to starting fullback for the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions. He retired after the 2015 season. From 2004-07 he was an all-everything standout at Washington State, where he played linebacker, fullback and tight end. “Jedzilla,” as Cougar fans affectionately dubbed him, earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors as a senior in 2007 after catching 52 Alex Brink passes for 512 yards. Today he is an associate with the Seattle-based wealth management firm Brighton Jones.