After a surprisingly competitive game last weekend against SMU, the WSU Cougars host the USC Trojans this Saturday in Pullman. The Cougs showed improvement on both sides of the ball against the Mustangs, but now face the tough task of hosting perennial Pac-10 power USC.
WSU made it out of the game fairly unscathed, with only a few players sitting out due to injury. The Spokesman-Review's Vince Grippi had a list of players resting during practice yesterday, and a note about freshman Toni Pole that should be disappointing for Cougar fans.
There was one big guy missing and that was freshman Toni Pole. His calf injury got infected last week and he underwent surgery to clean it out. He's out of the hospital already. Though there is no official word, I'm guessing the true freshman defensive tackle will now redshirt
Pole was a promising freshman who likely wouldn't seen significant action in the defensive line rotation. Also sitting out were Jared Karstetter, Tyson Pencer, Anthony Carpenter, Chantz Staden, Chima Nwachukwu and freshman Eric Oertel. Most of these players were nursing tweaks and bumps, with Staden's knee and Nwachukwu's neck being the biggest concerns.
Freshman Deone Bucannon had the hit of the week this week, laying out an SMU receiver on the first possession in what looked to be a clean hit. The freshman safety was flagged, prolonging the drive and leading to an SMU score. Senior Kevin Kooyman spoke up on behalf of Bucannnon to Grippi.
"I definitely feel the Deone one was an iffy call," Kooyman said of an early penalty that helped SMU score. "The ball was tipped and the receiver is fair game after that. He hit him with his shoulder, you could see it on the replay. It was clean hit. It was a big hit. It was a wrong decision."
Kevin Kooyman had the game of his life. The senior defensive end was glued to SMU quarterback Kyle Padron's hip pocket most of the day. When he wasn't, Kooyman got his hands up and still made plays. At one point, Kooyman came around the end, stripped Padron, recovered and made the tackle across the field.
We're a quarter of the way through the season now, so it's time to start reflecting on what we've seen thus far. Jeff Nusser, of CougCenter, feels good, but not great, about the improvements on the field.
Yeah, they got lit up a little in the second half at times -- especially in the third quarter. But even in the midst of the third quarter, I saw a defense that wasn't completely lost. June Jones put together a good strategy for attacking our weak spots, and small breakdowns led to completions. But even through all of that, the defensive players never had that "here we go again" look in their eyes. Lots of resiliency there, which was great to see.
But for as good as I feel about the potential and progress of the defense, I feel equally bad about the offense.
So what's the problem with the offense? Well it starts with the man in charge, offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy.
When the offense comes out with two tight ends, one running back and two wide receivers, the defense can compact itself into the middle of the field, taking away running lanes and clogging the middle. The offensive line and tight ends simply aren't good enough to run it up the gut in these situations.
So while it was a competitive game, the game still could've gone much better in the end. The Cougars sure looked improved, but it left fans wanting more, knowing they had a chance to seize that game but missed out.
The Cougs attention turns to the USC Trojans this weekend. The Trojans come to Pullman after a shaky non-conference schedule that exposed some holes on both sides of the ball. While USC doesn't look as good as they have in years past, WSU will still have a tough time staying with the more talented Trojans.
WSU and USC kick it off at noon on Saturday in Pullman.
For more on the Cougars, check out SB Nation's CougCenter.