Washington State (2-3) endured never-ending rain and wind, mistakes, punt returns, and a 21-point deficit at Utah (3-1) on Saturday and still ended up with a win. The Cougars had an interception returned for a touchdown, a punt returned for another touchdown and allowed a 78-yard run to fall behind 21-0 against Utah. That was just in the first 10 minutes.
However, just like the ever-present rain, the Cougars kept coming. After trailing 14-27 in the fourth quarter, WSU scored two touchdowns and took a 28-27 lead with 4:58 left in the game. The Cougar defense held and sealed the victory.
Some things we learned in this game:
The Cougars have a sneaky-good run game.
Everyone seems to think WSU can't run the ball. The fact of the matter is that they don't TRY to run it. This is the Air Raid after all. But when the Cougs do run it, they are pretty effective.
Against Utah, Cougar running backs Gerard Wicks ran 11 times for 61 yards and Jamal Morrow had 8 carries for 53 yards. That's 6.0 yards per carry, and that's not too shabby. Considering that Utah is 26th in rushing defense, only giving up 2.97 yards per carry, those numbers by the Cougars look pretty good.
Washington State CAN run the ball, they just choose not to. That's Mike Leach and the Air Raid.
WSU's defense is getting better.
Since getting torched by Rutgers in the season opener, WSU has slowly been getting better on defense. They only gave up 324 yards to Nevada, then held Oregon to 501 yards (the Ducks average 555 yards per game). Against Utah, WSU only gave up 357 yards.
The final score was a bit deceptive, as the Utah offense only scored 13 points on the Cougar defense. Their other 14 points came from an interception returned for a TD and a punt return for a TD.
Washington State coaches have made wholesale changes in the defensive personnel, opting for youth and athleticism over experience. Redshirt freshman Charleston White has replaced Senior Tracy Clark at corner, and he broke up several passes against Utah. True freshman safety Sulaiman Hameed made his first start against Utah, and is proving to be a heavy hitter, something the Cougars have been lacking this year.
Defensive Coordinator Mike Breske has also made some changes in the X's and O's. He is dialing up way more blitzing and defensive line stunts in an effort to pressure the opponents quarterbacks. It is working with the Cougars sacking Marcus Mariota seven times last week and holding Utah to only 165 passing yards. Travis Wilson was hit several times by the Cougars, and looked visibly rattled at the end of the game. He only completed 47% of his passes in the game.
This team is resilient.
This team just keeps on fighting and clawing. They started out 0-2 and have fought back to win two of their last three games. They hung in there with a very good Oregon team, matching them score for score. They were behind 21-0 against Utah, and stayed the course, came back and won.
This is a team that could have packed it in several times this season, but they just keep coming back.
What it all means for the Cougars.
This was the biggest comeback victory for the Cougars since 1988. It is a huge win for the team, and validates everything they have worked for and that Mike Leach has been preaching.
Leach frequently repeats his mantra: "One play at a time." Another one is "Get better each time." This is exactly what WSU has done since losing to Nevada. Every game they get a little better, play a little harder, and most importantly gain a little confidence.
They just need to keep it up, and the wins will keep coming.