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Vince Grippi’s three takes: Washington State defense has no speed limit

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 7, 2017, 9:03 p.m.

Washington State Cougars linebacker Logan Tago (45) brings down Oregon Ducks running back Royce Freeman (21) during the first half of a college football game on Saturday, October, 2017, at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State Cougars linebacker Logan Tago (45) brings down Oregon Ducks running back Royce Freeman (21) during the first half of a college football game on Saturday, October, 2017, at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

There is no air raid siren for the Cougar defense.

Though maybe there should be. Or some accoutrement that has to do with speed, like a rocket – or a WSU linebacker.

There is one aspect of defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s defense that is nearly impossible to deal with: the group’s speed.

Everyone, it seems, from inside lineman Hercules Mata’afa to safety Jalen Thompson, can run.

And just about everyone has a hand – or is it a foot? – in the defense’s success.

But Saturday night, in the 11th-ranked Cougars 33-10 win at Oregon, it was Frankie Luvu who took control.

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound rush linebacker ran through the Ducks’ offensive line en route to nine tackles, two of them for loss. Though Luvu didn’t lead the Cougars (6-0, 3-0 in Pac-12 play) in tackles – Hunter Dale had that honor with 10 – he did lead WSU in crucial and big hits.

But Luvu wasn’t alone. There is no way the Cougars could have held Oregon (4-2, 1-2) almost 40 points under its season average with just one or two defenders playing well.

Jahad Woods followed up his Pac-12 defensive player of the week game versus USC with another seven-tackle game. Others rallied to the ball as well.

The Ducks scored their only touchdown late in the first quarter. They were 2 of 17 on third down. They had 12 first downs. The Cougars came up with three turnovers, including an interception by sophomore Marcus Strong and another by Robert Taylor, and nine tackles for loss. They had three fourth-down stops. They dominated.

Cougars show their depth

Injuries are part of football. A big part.

Last week the Cougars took advantage of USC’s injuries, though maybe not to the extent some nationally seemed to feel.

So what did Fox’s national broadcast highlight within the first 6 minutes Saturday night? Want a clue? The graphic was entitled “Wounded Ducks.”

Yes, Oregon’s injuries. With starting quarterback Justin Herbert and inside linebacker Kaulana Apelu out, the Ducks came into the game a bit beat up.

But what about the Cougars?

They had just as many starters out, from inside receiver Robert Lewis, who hasn’t played all season, to their defensive leader, linebacker Peyton Pelluer. And more.

Including the players they lost against Oregon.

Linebacker Isaac Dotson, who took over Pelluer’s spot as the rock in the middle of the defense, missed most of the game against USC. He tried to go against Oregon, made three tackles early, then exited the game and the field. He didn’t return.

That meant Nate DeRider was back in. The former walk-on was solid inside, even though he missed time with a right leg injury suffered late in the first half and limped off again in the second half.

The Cougars reserve inside linebackers became Dillon Sherman and Justus Rogers, both redshirt freshmen.

Rogers played multiple minutes and finished with a couple tackles. Though Sherman had a sack and three tackles, he was involved in Oregon’s only score, chasing tight end Jacob Breeland down the middle on the Braxton Burmeister’s 30-yard touchdown pass.

Whether he missed the coverage or not – replays seemed to show Kirkland Parker or DeRider had the responsibility as both were with Royce Freeman in the flat.

But other Cougars were in and out as well.

Thompson missed time after a first-half arm injury. Corner Darrien Molton went out before reappearing on the sidelines with a club on his hand.

Not-so-special teams disappoint

Not everything went right for Washington State.

The special teams were not good, let alone special.

The punting was atrocious, especially early. Eric Powell, who was perfect on another four field goal attempts, had a 27-yard punt in the first quarter. Kyle Sweet followed up with a 12-yard boot. Both led to Oregon scoring drives.

But there were other flaws.

Jamal Morrow, usually smart and efficient on punt returns, muffed one in the fourth quarter. The defense made that mistake immaterial with an interception, but it did give the Ducks hope.

The kickoff coverage wasn’t as good as it’s been either, allowing the Ducks an average of 24 yards on five returns, including one for 36 yards.