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Monday, December 16, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Quick look back at first quarter of Cougars’ season

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk is completing 74.1 percent of his passes so far this season. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Washington State quarterback Luke Falk is completing 74.1 percent of his passes so far this season. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – There is no Washington State game on Saturday, and the open date nestled between the end of nonconference play and the start of Pac-12 games gives us a nice opportunity to reflect on the first quarter of the season.

In the past we have often used these moments to assign grades to particular position units. Grades are easy to understand and simple, digestible evaluation tools.

But maybe they are too specific. Evaluating the players relative to their teammates is an almost impossible task without the benefit of prior knowledge of their assignments on given plays. Was it really the quarterback’s fault that pass was intercepted? Or should the wide receiver have finished the route, rather than pulling up short and hoping the quarterback would adjust?

It sure looked like the defensive back got burned on that long touchdown, but we never really know if he was actually trying to make up for a teammate who was supposed to cover that specific wide receiver.

So this time, we’re going to try something a little more general, telling you what we’ve liked from each position group thus far in 2016 and where they need to improve going into conference play.

Quarterback

What we liked: Quarterback Luke Falk has been extremely accurate, connecting on 74.1 percent of his passes, and leading the nation in Pro Football Focus’ adjusted completion rate.

Where WSU can improve: Despite ranking No. 2 nationally in passing attempts, Falk is tied for 47th with just four passes of 30 or more yards and two of those came late against Boise State when the Cougars were forced to make the offense more explosive.

Running backs

What we liked: You can’t complain about the yards per carry, with James Williams (7.4), Jamal Morrow (4.7) and Gerard Wicks (5.3) each generating big plays when they touch the ball.

Where WSU can improve: With numbers like those, let’s see the backs get the ball even more.

Wide receivers

What we liked: The receivers are making plays with the ball in their hands, with Kyle Sweet, Robert Lewis and Tavares Martin each averaging better than 11 yards per catch.

Where WSU can improve: Gabe Marks has made some big plays, but the Cougars have not been able to get him loose on enough quick passes to the sideline.

Offensive line

What we liked: Falk seems to have ample time to throw the ball on most passing plays, perhaps the most of any year yet under Mike Leach.

Where WSU can improve: Penalties have plagued this group, and the false starts and holding penalties have been drive killers.

Defensive line

What we liked: Opponents are averaging just 3 yards per rush, even though the Cougars have played playmakers like Gage Gubrud and Jeremy McNichols.

Where WSU can improve: The Cougars have just two sacks in three games.

Linebackers

What we liked: This has been a hard-hitting unit, particularly since Frankie Luvu started playing more snaps.

Where WSU can improve: When the Cougars don’t lay the wood, they often miss. The linebackers need to shore up their tackling because the Pac-12 is well-stocked with hard-to-tackle skill players.

Secondary

What we liked: The secondary has already intercepted four passes and broken up another six.

Where WSU can improve: The Cougars have allowed 41 passes of 10 or more yards. Only Akron, Arizona State and Hawaii have given up more.

Special teams

What we liked: Erik Powell has consistently put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs, making him first WSU kicker who could reliably generate touchbacks in years.

Where WSU can improve: Powell attempted three field goals and each one has either missed or been blocked.

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