3 takeaways from WSU win over Oregon

THIS WAS THE Washington State team many expected to see in the season opener. Sure, WSU made its share of mistakes, just like you might expect in the first game of the season. But the Cougars were a force of nature on offense, and the defense got stronger as the game went along. And standing out most in the Cougs’ 55-31 victory over the Ducks, an unstoppable crimson run game.

1. Ground Leach was a sight to see
All three running backs -- Jamal Morrow, James Williams and Gerard Wicks -- not only ripped off big runs, they did some of their best work when WSU needed it most, seizing back any brief momentum Oregon might have gathered. WSU running backs coach Jim Mastro’s three Cougar 'backs unofficially combined for 273 ground yards and -- wait for it -- 6 rushing TDs.  The Cougar offensive line was phenomenal, opening up wide lanes from the first play of the game, and the running backs also piled up the yards after contact.

Even when Oregon knew the run was coming, the Wazzu ground attack continued to rack up the hashes.  There were times when the number of men in the box wasn't, on paper, conducive to a running play. But it didn't matter what Oregon put in the box or up on the line, not on this night - Washington State shoved the ball down Oregon's gullet from start to finish. When the Air Raid offense imposes its run game will on a defense to that degree, so much is possible.

2. The Cougs took away the Ducks’ spirit
Washington State beat Oregon up -- I'm not talking about the Duck players who were injured during the game --  Oregon's D had hands on its hips before the first half had even ended.  Meanwhile, Washington State's stop corps, along with its offense, looked daisy fresh late in the fourth quarter.  WSU was the most physical team, by far, on the field Saturday night and in all aspects.  The Cougar D gave up a few explosive plays early. But they also racked up a lot of tackles-for-loss or minimal gains. So what to make of it all when it comes to the Cougar D? The Wazzu defense is very much feast or famine -- but when they are in feast mode, it is very impressive to watch. The Cougars didn't win all three phases against the Ducks, but they won on offense and defense, and by mile-wide margins. And speaking of the offense …

The bye week benefits were readily apparent when it came to Luke Falk. Washington State's QB and the slot receivers attacked the intermediate sections of the field and the Oregon linebackers early and often. Falk didn't go deep as much as we thought he might -- but when you can rip off large chunks of yardage and mash your way down the field while taking all the fight out of the defense, who needs to see Falk slinging it deep?  Falk was 10 of 10 to start the game and arguably played the best game of his career. And a big part of that was because he recognized Oregon couldn't stop the Cougar running backs. That Falk and defensive players like d-lineman Hercules Mata'afa performed at a high level in  the Pac-12 opener would certainly seem to bode well going forward for Washington State.

3. The WSU special teams units have things to fix
WSU had a couple of early missteps on coverage, allowing two good sized returns, and there was the blocked field goal. But WSU could still feel good about themselves on special teams -- until they surrendered a 100-yard kickoff return, and just when WSU was ready to begin smiling on the sidelines with a 44-20 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Cougars didn't step on the Ducks as early as they could have and the blocked field goal started it all, followed by the Cougs turning it over on downs twice on the doorstep of the end zone. In the end, it cost the Cougs at least 13 points and more likely, 17. The good news? WSU came back from those disappointments and pushed the margin back to 17 and then 24 points. That's mental toughness. It's also putting an opponent away (even if it came a little later than was ideal). And oh by the way, the Cougs didn't turn the ball over once, and grabbed two takeaways of their own.

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