The Cougars may not have been able to pull off the upset and grab their first conference win on Saturday against Stanford, but they finally looked a bit like the team most people expected them to be going into the season.
The Cougars used their prolific passing attack and a suddenly stingy defense to keep themselves in the game with the Cardinal, but simply couldn't make the plays at the very end to at least send it to overtime as they fell 24-17. Jeff Tuel was able to keep the Cougars in the game with 400 yards passing and two touchdowns, but couldn't get a pass off in the waning seconds that would have given the Cougars a shot at tying the game up or going for the win.
This is what most people expected the Cougar offense to look like going into the season. Despite giving up an astonishing 10 sacks, Tuel was able to spread the ball around to a bevy of receivers and moved the ball up and down the field even without one of their leading receivers in Isiah Myers. They may have struggled mightily to get anything on the ground, but that should be expected with a Mike Leach coached team, and with their air attack firing on all cylinders the Cougars racked up more than a 100 yards than the Cardinal. The Cougars will definitely be able to upset one of the teams left on their schedule if their passing game looks like this in their remaining games.
What came as a shock though was how great the Cougar defense played. They clearly came in with the plan to force the limited Josh Nunes to beat them through the air and to sell out to the run and they executed it perfectly. The Cougars limited Nunes to just 7 completions while also really slowing the vaunted Cardinal run game, which finished with just 120 yards on 37 carries. While it is pretty obvious that the Cardinal are painfully one dimensional on offense, a lot of teams have tried this strategy and failed, so it is impressive that the Cougars pulled it off, especially on the road.
Unfortunately though, a loss is still a loss, and the Cougars are now a depressing 0-5 in conference and will now have to win the rest of their games to even become bowl eligible. It's actually almost unfortunate that the Cougars waited until they played an opponent like Stanford to play their best game of the year, as their performance on Saturday would have probably been enough to beat almost every team on their schedule.
However, the Cougars sudden improvement is a good sign that the team isn't going to pack it in for the rest of the season, and that Leach's offense can be very dangerous if they can get it up and running. Also, if their defense can continue to look as stout as it has most of the season, the Cougars could slowly become a team that opponents don't look forward to playing anymore.