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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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WSU football midseason grades

I'm not going to do midseason grades, but don't cancel your subscription just yet. Bear with me. During Washington State's bye week I assigned quarter-season grades for each position group. If I assigned grades today that incorporated all six of WSU's games to date, they would necessarily incorporate those early grades, which weigh down or pull up the final midseason grades. That wouldn't be particularly useful in my opinion.

Rather than assign a grade that includes those games for which I'm already on the record, I'm going to just grade the position groups' performances over the second quarter of the season. The three games we're looking at, then, are a close loss at California, a win at Oregon and a blowout home win over Oregon State. So I don't want to hear any accusations of grade inflation if the Cougars bring home a suspiciously good report card.

Quarterback: Over the last three games, Luke Falk has thrown 173 passes and completed 124 of them, a 72 percent clip. Even more impressively, he's thrown 13 touchdown passes in that stretch and just three interceptions, while averaging 434 passing yards per game. He's also led a game-tying drive at Oregon in the final seconds and led the offense to touchdowns in both overtimes. Sure, Falk still needs to be more decisive with the ball – he took 16 sacks during those three conference games – and that keeps him from being perfect. But Falk has put the Cougars in position to win every Pac-12 game they've played. Grade: A-

Running backs: The WSU running backs have been as effective during the last three games as any stretch of the Mike Leach era. Consider: The team's 136 rushing yards against the Ducks were the most since 2011, and that was with 49 yards lost due to sacks (sacks counting against rushing totals is the worst). And at the same time, the running backs have accounted for 67.3 receiving yards per game (90.5 over the last two games). The running backs haven't taken much blame for the sack issues and seem to be blocking OK when they're asked to. Grade: A-

Wide receivers: This group has been productive, to be sure, but the receivers have such potential that they have further to go than most groups before hitting their ceiling. Gabe Marks has been as good as you could want, and Dom Williams has been very good, albeit with some drops issues. It still seems like the inside guys could be making bigger impacts, however, and there are certainly times when Falk holds onto the ball too long because the receivers aren't getting separation. Kyrin Priester and Tavares Martin are starting to get more touches. They're two of the team's best athletes, so if those underclassmen can start making big plays than this unit's efficiency should increase significantly. Grade: B-

Offensive line: The offensive line is doing a better job getting to the second level and beyond, and that's sprung some big plays for the offense. Certainly, the guys upfront deserve a lot of credit for the increased productivity in the run game. But, 16 sacks is 16 sacks. This group's most important job is keeping the quarterback safe and right now Falk is as about as safe as a piñata at a birthday party for Edward Scissorhands. Grade: C+

Defensive line: The emergence of Darryl Paulo at defensive end has been a blessing for the defensive line. He's made 4.5 tackles for loss in the last three games and has proven to be an effective pass rusher who can also hold up OK against the run. Hercules Mata'afa and Destiny Vaeao are also pretty good at collapsing the pocket. However, the defensive line isn't doing a good enough job occupying blockers in the run game or forcing ball carriers to delay their cuts, which led to a number of big runs by the Oregon schools. Grade: B-

Linebackers: Parker Henry really stepped up at nickel in Isaac Dotson's absence with a few big plays, notably two tackles for loss, and that was huge for the linebackers. Replacing an established starter with a walk-on is never ideal, and Henry being able to hold his own prevents an enormous hole from emerging in WSU's defense. Peyton Pelluer and Jeremiah Allison have been solid, and their respective backups, Chandler Leniu and Frankie Luvu, are getting a lot of reps, keeping the whole group fresh.  While that group of inside backers is largely solid, and has made some big stops, it also still has some big whiffs and there are still some issues with missed tackles, bad angles or players trying to do one another's jobs, leading to two players being in the same gap. They've improved in each of those areas since the first three games, however. Grade: B

Secondary: Well, the three-game stretch started with Marcellus Pippins owning Jared Goff's soul on consecutive series and it ended with consecutive interceptions for Shalom Luani, who returned one for a touchdown. It wasn't always so pretty for the defensive backs against Goff, and Jeff Lockie and Seth Collins aren't exactly fearsome passers. But, the secondary doesn't get to choose which quarterbacks it goes up against, and has acquitted itself well against the ones it has faced. Grade: B+

Special teams: On the one hand, the coverage units seem much improved, with one 100-yard exception against Oregon State. Most opposing returns are uneventful in good way these days. But, Erik Powell went just 2 of 4 and had a kick blocked during the games in question and punter Zach Charme's average has dipped slightly. WSU's return teams have been solid, however, and the unit overall is light years ahead of where it was last year. Grade: C

Reporting:
The beat writer is a crass, foul-mouthed graduate of a commuter school that's not worth mentioning. His hair is in the middle of a migration from his head to his back and he has personal hygiene befitting his profession. But at least he's not Vince Grippi. Grade: A+



Jacob Thorpe
Jacob Thorpe joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the Sports Desk covering Washington State University athletics.

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