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WSU’s loss to USC, the day after


Get a cup of coffee. Grab a Danish. Strap yourself to your chair. There's a lot to cover this morning, and we're not just talking about the rest of the Pac-10. We're talking about Washington State's debacle yesterday against USC and the rest of the conference season. It's all on the link, so read on.

• Washington State: Going into the week, there was a part of me that felt the USC matchup was about as good as it was going to get for WSU the rest of the season. At home with more than likely a rowdy, decent-sized crowd. An opponent with good speed but one that allowed your defense to play in a confined space. A pass defense that had proved vulnerable. And a school that played disinterested against WSU in the past. Seemed like a chance for an upset. Besides, after USC left town, the future looked even tougher (and we'll get to how that's even truer this morning in a bit). Plus, the Cougars' offensive plan seemed solid and played to their strengths, the defense looked to be over its tackling problem and the special teams, well, they were finally solid after three years, right? Then Saturday came, the reality of what USC presented seemed to hit home and the Cougars once again shot themselves in the foot. How? Let's look at the defense first. ...

• Were the Cougars overmatched physically? Sure, but they should be used to that by now. If the USC offensive line was pushing around the defensive line a bit, big deal, WSU's front four was doing its main job, occupying the Trojans so the linebackers could make tackles. But the linebackers seemed unable to break down, make contact and wrap up (we have some more quotes on this below). The safeties weren't much better (though Deone Bucannon and Tyree Toomer led with eight apiece – which is a problem in itself – they each missed at least a handful of tackles as well). In fact, no one really tackled well except possibly defensive ends Travis Long and Kevin Kooyman. Sure, USC has talented, big backs, but so does a lot of Pac-10 teams. As Daniel Simmons said in John Blanchette's column, these are the guys you have to tackle and if you can't, you shouldn't be playing here. ... The other area in which WSU failed defensively was the pass rush. There wasn't one. Matt Barkley would play fake, step back, look at one side of the field, switch to the other, then drop the ball off to a receiver who had finally worked himself free. That guy would then break two tackles before being brought down after a 21-yard gain. The coverage actually seemed pretty good but no one can cover forever. The lack of pressure allowed USC's passing game to succeed. ...

• The offense was even more compelling. Though it scored just two touchdowns and a field goal, the Trojans rarely stopped it. Mainly, the offense sputtered because of self-inflicted wounds. Let's look at each of the unsuccessful possessions up to Nico Grasu's fourth-quarter field goal. After scoring on it first possession, Jeff Tuel misread the defense and threw the pick six (covered in greater detail in our notebook). The next possession USC stiffened after a 14-yard gain and forced a punt. An 18-yard gain started the next possession but a missed block up front led to a sack and another punt, which was blocked. Starting the next drive at its 1, WSU moved 49 yards without being stressed, only to have John Fullington start too soon and then get bowled over by Wes Horton. The two 5-yard losses kill the drive. The next possession ends in a touchdown pass to Jared Karstetter. The Cougars take a shot deep when they get the ball back and the throw was too long and Nickell Robey had his second pick. The final possession of the half ended on another interception when the receiver didn't break back into the hole in the defense, and Tuel's throw hit T.J. McDonald in the chest. In the second half, the first possession ended after two first downs and 34 yards due to good USC defense. The second was short-circuited by a broken play that lost 5 yards and that was it. Two possessions the entire third quarter. ...

• The special teams contributed to the defeat in a few ways, from Nico Grasu's too short pooch kickoff in the first quarter to the blocked punt which flipped field position to back-to-back poor decisions on kickoff returns which started the two third-quarter possessions inside the WSU 20. ...

• So where does that leave WSU? With UCLA's 34-12 upset of No. 7 Texas in Austin and Arizona State's showing last week against Wisconsin and Saturday vs. Oregon, the two road games that seemed to hold promise now look more like nightmares. Is Oregon State a possibility? In Corvallis, probably not. Cal in Pullman, maybe. And then there is the Apple Cup. But no matter how you slice it, getting a Pac-10 win this season will once again be a major upset. And the chance of another huge blowout looms nearly every week, especially if the tackling doesn't improve – by leaps and bounds.

• Now on to the quotes from yesterday ...

WSU coach Paul Wulff ...

On USC: "They have big plays because they have great athletes that can make them."

On WSU's offense in the first half: "Thought we were moving the ball well, but I thought we missed some open touchdowns, just had some miss-thrown balls from an accuracy standpoint."

On USC again: "When you get into Pac-10 play and you're facing a big, physical multi-dimensional team with great athletes, you've got to play well."

On tackling: "Size and strength and confidence has a big part in being a good tackler."

On tackling, again: "We were doing some stunting up front to try to create some problems for their offensive front, to try to free up our backers to make plays. We didn't tackle and knock them back enough."

On playing four wides and the no-huddle: "It's been kind of a grooming process for our O-line, for our receivers and quarterback. We wanted to start opening some things up and we did that today. We've got to keep evolving."

More on the same: "We do want to tempo things and grow in that area."

The blocking: "Our O-line at times blocked extremely well."

The pistol look: "The depth of the quarterback is the exact same, that was no change for us. What it does do, by putting him behind the quarterback, it gives us a little more two-way go in our run game. You offset them and people can run games to a particular side. Put him behind, you're not as predictable in the run game."

On USC, again: "Their offense did a pretty nice job chewing up the clock in the second half."

On whether Chima Nwachukwu was hurt: "Just make the change. When 10 is in there, there seems to be a lot of plays made."

On Deone Bucannon's play: "There were some mistakes made by him, a couple bootlegs that came out clean, but those are some of his responsibilities."

Mistakes: "A lot of the mistakes are just young mistakes. They're good athletes but they're just not veteran enough. We've just to live with some of that right now."

Losing: "It just makes me mad and I'm tired of it."

On putting it behind: 'We just can't have hangovers from football games. But it better sting for a good 48 hours."

His reaction to a no-call on an obvious pass interference: "I was jumping, at least I thought I was jumping up and down. I may have been this far. I wasn't happy at all and I was talking to Dan Antonietti (the head linesman) on the side about it."

WSU receiver Jared Karstetter ...

On the decision-making process with the spread: "It's more a quarterback thing, as far as putting the pressure on Tuel. But I think he did a great job of that today, especially at the beginning of the game."

Offensive guard B.J. Guerra ...

On the blocking: "After a few series went by, we knew exactly what they were as a D-line. Good, solid up front. We could have reacted sooner."

Quarterback Jeff Tuel ...

The early score: "It got everybody into this game and they knew we were here to play, we weren't going to lay down for these guys."

On the spread: "We thought our matchups were better with our receivers against their DBs than trying to ram the ball down their throat."

The pick six: "Corner was kind of in a gray area for us, so it's an option where Marquess can do two different routes. I just probably threw it late or we should have done the other (route). It's one of those things I don't see myself doing again."

On going deep: "We wanted to take our shots and be aggressive all four quarters. It's something we did and had fun doing it.

Defensive end Travis Long ...

On the defense: "Up front we were being physical, we were getting where we needed to be."

On USC: "A lot of their passing game comes off play action, so sometimes it's a little difficult to get a read."

On Stanley Havili: "We knew he was a big part of the offense. We had a bit of the game plan around him."

On the poor tackling: "A lot of times we're just overrunning, we're overpursuing, the flow's getting too far one way and they're just able to cut back on us. We have to slow down and take better angles. Quit lunging, reaching. When we're flowing too fast one, we have to reach and try to make the tackle. That's not the proper way."

Offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy ...

The offensive line: "We messed up a few protections early but once we got settled down, for as many times as we threw it, I thought we did some really good things in pass pro."

On O-line again: "We're getting better every day."

Once more: "If you can't protect, you might as well forget it."

On the offense: "We want to play fast and we want to play aggressive."

Whether they surprised USC: "We haven't been no-huddle, we haven't been four receivers."

On Tuel running the no-huddle: "Jeff did a really good job of managing the looks, handling their blitz package."

Going deep: "We feel we do a good job of throwing vertical balls. We didn't get to as many today as I would have liked. That's something we've got to be able to do. We want to push the ball down the field."

Going deep again: "Our guys are good at it and it needs to be a part of what we do."

The pick for a score: "That really hurt. Jeff made a mistake – a young mistake – on that. The corner was playing a catch technique. He was kind of in between. It was a route we run all the time. If it's press, we run vertical. If it's loose, we're going to run a hitch. The corner was in that gray area and Jeff should have seen that pre-snap and he made a mistake. That kid timed it up and jumped it, and that's the result."

Cornerback Daniel Simmons ...

Tackling: "We just have to wrap up. It's really that simple. It's not a matter of whether we can tackle or not, we can tackle. At this level if you don't know how to tackle, then you shouldn't even be on the field. I think it's more mental. We're hitting, we're not wrapping."

The USC backs: "They weren't Kendall Hunters. It was a matter of open-field tackles."

On the pass defense: "We're very confident in our cover skills. I don't care who the opponent is, line us up in press man, I don't care. You've got to prove to me you can get open."

On USC's passing game: "The problem today was the running backs, getting out there and catching the ball. Stanley Havili, the running backs, they're getting open easily. He had a field day all-purpose."

Bucannon: "As a true freshman, he's hesitant at times. When he's not, he's making plays. It's a learning process, but I'm confident in him. The mistakes he did make I wouldn't expect of him. It was more of a mental thing. They ran a couple slants and posts on him in the red zone for touchdowns. We'll get that cleaned up."


• And, finally, here are our WSU links: Besides our stuff linked above, we also had our keys to the game and the scoring summary. ... Our Chris Anderson also had this in-depth photo package. ... The Times' Bud Withers looks at where the program is at in this column, adds a game story and a summary. ... Christian Caple has this story on the Moscow-Pullman Daily News blog. ... CougCenter's coverage comes in two parts, an overview with the defense, and the offense and special teams. ... Cougfan's coverage leads with Bucannon, who made eight tackles but was also burned for two touchdowns.


• Around the Pac-10: Hey, it was a great day for the conference. Every game featured a ranked team and every game was exciting. ...'s Ted Miller gives out his helmet stickers. ... Boise State's win over Oregon State may be the Broncos last hurrah, according to the LA Times' Chris Dufresne. ... Washington: The Huskies had a bye. ... Oregon State: Boise's 37-24 victory was a lost opportunity for the Beavers. ... Oregon: The Ducks nearly came up dry in the desert, but they rallied to defeat ASU, 42-31 in the late game. ... Cal: The Bears chance for a big upset went awry in the kicking game – two missed field goals – and they lost 10-9 at Arizona. ... Stanford: The Cardinal just beat down the Irish to win 37-14 in South Bend. ... USC: It didn't take the Trojans long after their 50-16 defeat of WSU to start looking forward to Washington. ... Havili stepped up for USC. And Allen Bradford took a seat ... UCLA: OK, so the Bruins own Texas. Their 34-12 upset shows that. ... Arizona State: The Sun Devils throw away a chance at an upset. ... Arizona: The Wildcats rally to defeat Cal on Nick Foles' late touchdown pass.


• That's all for this morning. I hope it's enough. We'll be back this evening after Paul Wulff's conference call. Until then ...

Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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