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Washington State vs. Utah: Cougars defense seeing incremental improvement

The Washington State Cougars defense has slowly improved throughout the season, which was highlighted in their effort against Stanford last week.


The 2-6 Washington State Cougars have yet to win a conference game in 2012, having lost all five. That puts them in last place in the Pac-12's North Division. While their dreams of making it to a bowl game after the 2012 season aren't likely to come true, there is reason to hope that they won't finish the season without a conference win.

This is mainly due to the fact that their defense has had moments of brilliance this season. It just hasn't been consistently brilliant.

The Cougars have allowed an average of 29.6 points per game to date this season, which ranks at No. 77 in the FBS. Even though they've lost five games in a row, two of their defense's best games came in the last three weeks against Oregon State and Stanford, both ranked teams.

Their two most promising performances both resulted in losses, both on the road. The first was a 19-6 setback against Oregon State in which WSU held the Beavers without a touchdown in the first half. The second was last week against Stanford, a game the Cardinal won 24-17 despite gaining just 256 offensive yards.

That WSU held Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor to just 58 yards on 21 carries was especially impressive, considering the Cougars allowed Cal to rush for 318 yards the game before.

Cougars linebacker Darryl Monroe said, after watching the game film from their one-touchdown loss to Stanford, that the difference between great defenses and the Cougars defense is great defenses play the way they played in that game all the time.

"That's why I feel we've been making plays and starting to come together as a defense, because we listen to what our coaches say, use the techniques they taught us," Monroe said. "We just kind of make a team beat us with something they haven't shown us or a way that our coach hasn't taught us to play it."

The Cougars have allowed more yards than they did in the 2011 season, but not as many points and they've already sacked the quarterback more (21 compared to 17) and picked off more passes than they did last season.

Defensive coordinator Mike Breske believes that his defense needs to play the way they did against Stanford in every game.

"As a group, individually, whatever the case may be, they've got to perform at that level," Breske said. "And they can. We've just got to grow up."

The Cougars will need that tough defense to show up when they face the Utah Utes on Saturday at home.