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TV Take: Defensive debacles continue for Washington State as Cougars remain winless in Pac-12 play

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 12, 2019

It had been two weeks, two eventful weeks, since Washington State had been on the football field. The Cougars returned Saturday afternoon with another road game against a ranked opponent.

This one, at 18th-ranked Arizona State, went better, but it was their third consecutive defeat as freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels 17-yard touchdown run with 34 seconds left was the difference in ASU’s 38-34 victory.

Those of us not sitting in the warm Arizona sun were treated with Pac-12 Networks veteran Ted Robinson on the play-by-play and Yogi Roth filling the analyst’s role.

What they saw

• The top narrative for Cougars fans this week, and for the Pac-12 Networks’ crew, was the changes on the defensive side of the ball. To recap, after the second-half debacle against UCLA and the struggles in Utah, coordinator Tracy Claeys resigned and Mike Leach replaced him with a couple of position assistants.

At first, the changes seemed to be the perfect solution.

After one home team drive, Arizona State (5-1, 2-1 Pac-12) had 3 yards of total offense, and Washington State led 10-0.

As Robinson put it, “The first return is positive for the Washington State defense.”

But even with the new co-coordinators and new positions for some starters, it didn’t last.

The same problems showed up first on the Sun Devils’ first score, a 40-yard pass from Daniels to Brandon Aiyuk on which new nickelback Pat Nunn got crossed up and didn’t bust to get back in the play.

But the last 2 minutes of the halves were the worst from the Cougars’ (3-3, 0-3) point of view.

Another good stretch of defense ended with less than 2 minutes remaining before intermission when Marcus Strong and Bryce Beekman – both of whom were still playing the same spots – took bad angles, and Aiyuk took a short pass 86 yards for a score.

A WSU three-and-out – Anthony Gordon missed an open Calvin Jackson Jr. that would have been a big gain – led to the Sun Devils ending the half with a short field goal to tie it at 17.

ASU began the second half with a 75-yard drive, capped by Eno Benjamin’s 32-yard fourth-down scoring run. In 6:19, the Sun Devils had scored 17 points and taken the lead.

• After the Cougars had taken a 34-31 lead on a Blake Mazza 31-yard field goal with 2:30 left, the Sun Devils went 75 yards in 10 plays to win. WSU stayed within its prevent defense the entire drive, except for a fourth down in which Benjamin picked up five of his 137 rushing yards to keep the drive alive.

• The Pac-12 Networks showed an interesting graphic twice. It concerned Gordon’s accuracy – measured by completion percentage – and how it has fallen consistently through the first five games.

Roth, a former quarterback coach at USC, did a good job of explaining the numbers, at least as they pertained to this game.

He talked about Gordon’s feet not being set, and then explained how that was the Sun Devils’ goal. He also explained, often, how they were trying to do that with their blitzes. It was an instructive lesson in the “why” behind a “what.”

Gordon, who dealt with off-and-on pressure, finished 44-of-64 passing for 466 yards and three touchdowns.

What we saw

• Strong struggled much of the game, including being targeted for three consecutive Aiyuk completions on an early fourth-quarter ASU scoring drive. Though he didn’t have the Arizona State receiver all game, the senior had seven catches for 196 yards and three touchdowns.

• Lewis Johnson worked the sidelines, though in a Leach-coached game that position isn’t easy. However, Johnson did have the biggest news break.

Before the game he reported after the team meetings following the Utah loss, the Cougars decided to nix the social media presence the rest of the season. He added the resolution included the coaching staff as well.

We’ll see.

Johnson also had an interesting feature on Cougars defensive end Cosmos Kwete, whose journey to Pullman wasn’t a short one. He was born in the Republic of Congo and grew up in Zimbabwe before attending high school in Phoenix.

But Johnson did misspeak in the pregame when talking about the Cougars’ team meeting, saying “Josh Gordon” when he meant lineman Josh Watson.

• There were a few other misses by the broadcast team, though they were mainly visual ones. A couple of times, Robinson and Roth spoke over referee Chris Coyte’s description of a penalty call.

A couple of times, there were also calls made we didn’t see a replay of until well after it occurred. And there were the two commercials for the game we were actually watching, which makes one wonder who is in charge of continuity in the Bay Area offices.

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