CouGreat Erik Coleman, who called the WSU-Idaho game for Pac-12 Networks, analyzes the 2016 Cougs

LET’S GET DOWN to brass tacks with Washington State’s Pac-12 opener just 48 hours away. Where are the Cougs at right now? If you are who you are on the field on Saturdays, a great place to start is to pour over Wazzu’s last game. And to pick the brain of a guy who was in the broadcast booth calling that game for the Pac-12 Network – CouGreat safety Erik Coleman.

Coleman offered plenty of chalk talk on Washington State's 55-6 win over Idaho. But his bottom line assessment on Wazzu in 2016 after the non conference slate?  It has a lot to do with what goes on between the ears.

“They have the potential to be a very good team -- I hope they realize their potential,” said Coleman. “And sometimes it takes actually doing it to realize that. Beating up on Idaho is different than beating Oregon would be.  When I played at WSU, there wasn’t a game we went into where we didn’t say we were going to beat the daylights out of the other team. It didn’t matter who it was. And it was just up to us ... I hope they realize their potential, and get to that same place.”

The first 1 ½ quarters against Idaho certainly didn’t yield the results Cougar fans were hoping to see. Here’s Coleman’s take on the slow start:

“At the beginning of the game, Washington State was getting used to the combination of running the football more … as they were trying to figure out Idaho’s defense,” said Coleman.  “Idaho started off with three-deep safeties. And the two outside safeties were inverting and dropping into coverage. They had eight guys dropping so everything from 7-25 yards was in coverage. So that made it hard for Luke Falk to find those windows. That’s why you saw him holding the ball a lot.

“But once WSU was able to establish the run game, that forced Idaho’s hand -- they couldn’t stay in that defense that they wanted to. You started to see the 1-on-1 coverages, and more of the base cover-3. And Falk then picked it apart.”

Coleman is highly curious to see if the Cougs show a similar productive run game this Saturday vs. the Ducks.

“Running the ball wears down a defense, sure, but it makes the passing lanes more available for Falk to see too,” said Coleman. “Those safeties can’t hang back, you can’t just rush three people. They have to take someone out of coverage when you can run the ball and that lets Luke Falk and his receivers get into one-on-one matchups. Those are matchups Falk and his receivers can take advantage of.  Every time.”

Second-year freshman running back James Williams stood out to everyone who saw the game, including Coleman.

“My impression of him? That he’s hungry. Being hungry will take a player a long way… he brings the fight to the defense and he also makes people miss. I really liked how he was carrying the ball and doing all the things WSU asks a running back to do. And I also liked what I saw from Jamal Morrow and Gerard Wicks,” said Coleman.

WE OF COURSE had to ask Coleman, a former first-team All-Pac-10 safety who finished his WSU career with 234 tackles and 12 interceptions, about the 2016 Cougar safeties.

“As a defensive back, your enemy is space, the grass between you and the ball carrier,” said Coleman. “What Jalen Thompson did against Idaho, and what Shalom Luani always does, is do a great job of ‘taking grass.’ And by that I mean closing the gap between them and the ball carrier --  without slowing down – and making the tackle in space.  

“Once you slow down or hesitate when you're in space, the ball carrier gets to dictate what you do. Taking grass and exploding to the ball carrier makes him react to what you do ... And it also seemed to me like the defensive backs as a whole were communicating better across the board – you didn’t see any free runners going through the secondary.”

THE COUGARS, Coleman said, got Mike Leach’s message loud and clear before the Idaho game. They were aggressive, in ways they hadn't been in the first two games of the season. The offensive line dominated in the run game, creating holes, and the defense and special teams took care of business.

“They were being the hammer, and not the nail, and in all three phases of the game. But to be successful now in the Pac-12 schedule, they have to do that every week and starting with Oregon. What I saw against Idaho was a WSU team that trusted one other. The players were staying in their gaps, they were steering the ball to their teammates, instead of trying to be Superman and go make a play that you shouldn’t make,” said Coleman.

WSU hosts Oregon Saturday night at 6:30 pm on the Pac-12 Network (also on Pac-12 Washington and Pac-12 Oregon). The game has long been sold out.

FROM THE CF.C ARCHIVES: CouGreat Erik Coleman is now Mr. Analyst

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