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Wednesday, October 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Grip on sports: Similar recipe for Cougs in loss

Mike Leach couldn’t have seen a lot of positives from his WSU defense on Thursday. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Mike Leach couldn’t have seen a lot of positives from his WSU defense on Thursday. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Friday: Did last night’s game have a familiar feel? 

Sure it did. And we’re not just talking about the Mike Leach era.

That is the legacy of Cougar football. Great offense, mainly due to great quarterback play. And suspect defense.

Over the years, it’s been that way more often than not. Whenever the Cougars have studs on defense – or a group that plays collectively like a swarming animal – then they do well. Heck, that was the case with the Palouse Posse and there was basically a manager at quarterback back then.

The Cougars have more than that at quarterback right now, much more. Connor Halliday once again threw for more than 500 yards and, at times, was so locked in it looked as if Rutgers decided its front seven was so strong, it didn’t need defensive backs. Because the back guys seemed non-existent. He also threw five touchdowns passes, could have had another one fairly easily and tossed just one early interception. 

But football isn’t just a game of offense, even these days.

The Cougar defense, breaking in two-and-a-half new secondary starters (corner Daquawn Brown started a few games last season), needed to get a few stops, either through forcing punts – it did that four times – or turnovers – it did that just once, and it led to a disappointing field goal.

And the Cougar special teams just has to get the ball to the offense. Not in great position, but just deliver the ball to it. That was a given last year when Leon Brooks waved his arms above his head more often than a Mariners outfielder when Chris Young is pitching. If River Cracraft had taken a page from Brooks’ playbook last night, the Cougars probably would be 1-0 right now and everything else would be glossed over.

No matter what the final score was, WSU fans understand they can’t gloss over the defensive struggles. They started up front, which was supposed to be the strength of the unit. It continued with the linebackers, where starter Cyrus Coen was missing, though it couldn’t have been due to the ankle he rolled earlier in the week because the Cougars never have injuries.

Mainly the defense struggled because the secondary is such a work in progress. The Rutgers’ running game had some huge plays – explosives as the coaches like to call them – that were decent runs turned into gashers mainly due to bad tackling or over pursuit by the wet-behind-the- ears secondary.

Leach decried what he sees as the Cougars’ “it’s-OK- to-get-close” culture, saying afterward the players will probably be patted on the back 20 times before they get back to their Pullman apartments.

I’m not sure whom Leach was referring to there. It certainly couldn’t be the Cougar fans who were on social media last night. They were not in a patting-on-the-back mood. Stabbing in the back, maybe, but not patting.

As typical as the last Seattle game may have played out, the Cougar nation seems, like Leach, a bit fed up with just coming close. The fans expect more this season.

They may still get it – there are, after all, still 11 regular season games yet to be played – but after one night anyway, the Cougar faithful seemed to have lost its belief a bit.

Sunday: You want to know one thing that made me really happy about watching Eastern Washington’s win over Sam Houston State (last week) on ESPN?

Not once, as far as I could tell, did the self-proclaimed world-wide leader show the tired old shot of the Spokane Falls roaring in downtown. That seems like a win to me.

You notice in every Gonzaga basketball game the network shows, it has the same shot of the falls? Heck, I think you can see the YMCA in the background and it hasn’t been around for years.

But (in the Eastern game) ESPN made do with shots of pine trees and wheat fields, River Park Square (from Friday) and Colin Cowherd. And plenty of football.

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