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How Washington State grades for the first half of the season

Coming of a bye week, it's a good time to review the first half of Washington State's season. Seven games in and the Cougars are in trouble, thanks mostly to terrible special teams play.

Washington State needs to improve special teams play.
Washington State needs to improve special teams play.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State fans are currently reeling. This season was supposed to be the turning point, and a bowl game was fully expected. But the Cougars now sit at 2-5, and a bowl game seems unlikely with five tough games left on the schedule. Can the Cougs go 4-1 in that stretch? It would be tough, but the Cougars haven't been blown out by anybody this year and feature the nation's best passing attack.

Offense

The Washington State offense has been spectacular this season. The have the 1st ranked passing offense and 9th ranked total offense in the nation. Quarterback Connor Halliday has been putting up video game-like numbers and leads the nation in passing. He set the NCAA record against Cal with a mind-blowing 734 yards passing. He has averaged 477 yards per game and has set the pace for the Cougars.

All the yardage hasn't exactly resulted in a huge amount of points, but the Cougars are averaging a very respectable 35 points per game. That number would be higher, but the offense has been hurt by an inability to score field goals and poor field position. That will be discussed in the special teams section.

Washington State's 535 yards per game and 35 points per game earns their offense a solid grade.

Offensive grade: A

Defense

The Cougar defense is a bit of a mystery, playing well against Nevada, Utah and Oregon, poorly against Rutgers and Cal, and fair against Stanford. An inexperienced secondary populated by freshman and sophomores has allowed some easy scores, but at other times has played well. The front seven of the Cougars, thought to be the strength of the defense coming into the season, has underperformed much of the season. They have had their bright spots though, such as when they sacked Oregon's Marcus Mariota seven times.

Looking at the numbers, they aren't as bad as their record suggests. They give up 444 yards and 35 points per game. They are tied for fifth in the conference for sacks (7) and sixth for tackles for loss (41). They are not creating many turnovers and are last in the Pac-12 in turnover margin.

Lack of a leader on defense has hurt the Cougars. No one player has stood out in a dominating performance this season.

The Washington State defense has had an up and down year. They are simply average.

Defensive grade: C minus

Special Teams

The special teams have been atrocious for the Cougars, leading directly to two losses and contributing to every loss. They almost gave away the 28-27 WSU win over Utah by giving up a touchdown on a punt return. They fumbled late in the Rutgers game on a punt return and allowed Rutgers to seal the victory. Against Cal they allowed two consecutive kickoff returns for touchdowns, as well as missing a last second field goal that would have won the game. Just average special teams play against Rutgers and Cal and the Cougars would be 4-3 and probably headed to a bowl game. Instead they sit at 2-5.

Their punting has been inconsistent, sometimes good but with far too many shanked or kicked into the end zone for a touchback instead of downed inside the 15. Punt returning has been equally dismal, with few returns and poor decision making on when to fair catch the ball. The combination of poor punting and bad returns has led to poor field position all season.

Kickoff defense has also been a problem, with far too many good returns setting up their opponents in good field position. They allowed Cal to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game.

Field goal kicking has been by far the worst for the Cougars. WSU has attempted 12 field goals and missed five of them.  Coach Mike Leach has largely abandoned trying field goals, opting to go for it on fourth down even when in easy field goal range. The lack of field goals has hurt the Cougar's overall point production, and cost them the Cal game.

The poor special teams play led Leach to fire special teams coach Eric Russell after the Cal performance.

The special teams for Washington State have been terrible, directly losing two games and hurting them in every game. They deserve lower than a F.

Special teams grade: F Minus

Overall Team Grade

Washington State has played great offense, average defense and terrible special teams. If the special teams were just average and performed their jobs, this team would be 4-3 and looking at a bowl game instead of 2-5.

Team grade: D