Lies, damned lies and stats

WHEN WAS THE LAST time 325 yards allowed felt so bad? Statistically, it's better than seven Pac-10 teams averaged last year. It's better than the average allowed per game of over half the D-IA teams in '06. But defensively, the Cougs are heading into this Saturday against an offensive juggernaut and unless there is a remarkable turnaround, the horizon in Los Angeles is looking ominous.

Defensively, the Cougars are not playing very well, Bill Doba said Tuesday. And that's been apparent since the clock started on the 2007 season.

Cougars (2-1) vs Trojans (2-0)
5 pm Pacific Time

Los Angeles Coliseum (grass)

ABC national broadcast

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USC by 25.5

USC 28, WSU 22

It was driven home in Week Three on the first Vandals' drive. Idaho found the end zone through a patch of Martin Stadium turf down the middle large enough to build their own personal driving range.

Against Wisconsin, San Diego State and Idaho, the Cougs' allowed opening scoring drives (61, 61, 57 yards) that went through the defense like a hot knife through butter. Some of that can be attributed to different looks, unexpected schemes, that's just football. But not all of it.

And if Washington State plays like they have on defense the first three games, USC might put up 700 yards against them.

Or more.

That Washington State is 2-1 and has won two games handily is a testament to a powerful offensive attack led by Alex Brink. But the Cougs are not likely to be successful playing catchup, in a shootout, against the Trojans.

There is, however, some hope for the future, both near and long-term.

BOTH BILL DOBA and others, (including Jim Walden in a story to be published this week on CF.C) have seen defensive improvement over the course of the non-con schedule. The prevailing wisdom is that the Cougars aren't untalented on defense, they're just (mostly) inexperienced.

Against Idaho, there was evidence of that in the third quarter as the linebackers, secondary and perhaps most importantly, the defensive line, came alive.

After a turnover and the Vandals suddenly at midfield, the linebackers rose up. And taking the ball and grabbing 'ol mo right back, that's what good defenses do.

Greg Trent and Andy Mattingly impressed during the series in run support and pass coverage, Trent on two of them. And Ken Dunn just about knocked a few people into next week in the second half.

D-tackle Aaron Johnson got a sack and Ropati Pitoitua, Washington State's best performing defensive lineman to date, racked up six tackles including one for loss and two quarterback hurries -- a very good day for a tackle indeed.

The secondary had four picks (Abdullah, Giles, Nwachukwu,CBass) Saturday. And 6-of-8 Idaho drives in the second half consisted of 5 plays or fewer -- that's good secondary work.

WASHINGTON STATE played better in the second half after going to more base defense. Bill Doba said at halftime the Cougs would need to take out some of the layers and simplify things. And he's a smart coach -- the cardinal rule in coaching is not to ask an athlete to do more than he's capable of. He may be capable later, but if he isn't now, don't put him in that position.

And that's the rub.

Against dynamic Pac-10 defenses, and oh by the way one of college football's elite offenses is on the Cougs' schedule Saturday, you need to play more than base. But if your personnel isn't ready to do more of those things, you can't. It's a quandary with no attractive solution, save than perfect execution.

Against USC, the Cougs will need to execute like they have not to this point. The close games between the Cougs and Trojans are usually held in Pullman, opponents don't like playing at Washington State and that certainly includes USC. But this game is in L.A., where Washington State has usually had difficulty, and not just because USC refused to play anywhere but in LA for so many years. The last nailbiting outcome at the Coliseum was 33-27 in 2000.

OPPOSING COACHES will be up late at night this season because the Cougs have the makings of a truly prolific offense, one putting up gaudy numbers through the air but also one that has been surprisingly good at running the ball.

But USC is very tough to run against, allowing a paltry 64.5 yards per game.

And if the Cougs find themselves in a hole because the defense can't stop Southern Cal's offense, Wazzu will have to go to the air even more that they already normally would. They'll also have to get rid of it quickly because USC has shown a heated pass rush. Eventually, all that combines as a recipe for a loss.

It will come down to execution, on offense and defense, for Washington State.

And there would be no better time for the defense to "find it" than on Saturday.

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