Grading the Game - UW at WSU, Apple Cup Disaster Edition

William Mancebo

While I'd rather try to forget about this game altogether, duty dictates I hold my nose and take a look back at the craptacular loss yesterday and grade the team. I'll warn everyone that I'm not feeling particular generous with grades today...

So, that happened. I think I recall seeing some folks post that they really didn't know what us older Husky fans were talking about in terms of the capacity of the Cougs to pull off a big upset in the Apple Cup - well, now you know why we say anything can happen in these games, especially games in Pullman. While this one wasn't quite as bad as the loss in '82 - that one knocked the Huskies out of the Rose Bowl - this one was about as painful as any I've witnessed. It was the very definition of "Couging It", except it was the Huskies snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. This one hurts, and will always hurt. The other losses this season were at least somewhat justifiable; this one though was just a complete clusterf*$&% of missed chances to secure the win.

Still, I'll remind everyone that we're still bowling, we still have a chance to win 8 games, and the wins and losses still match up pretty well with how most people figured the Huskies would do this year - and that's before most of the big injuries happened. So with that bit of perspective in place, let's dive into the painful details of the game:

QB: I like Keith Price, and I think he's probably taken more criticism that he's deserved this year. Still, this was not a good game for him - too many mistakes including missing wide open guys (he's been terrible on long passes this year), not seeing open guys, not checking the play clock and taking unnecessary delay-of-game penalties and making critical mistakes. His wild flip of the ball in OT was as boneheaded a play as I've seen him make. We have to hope he takes a step forward next year as a Senior, because we need our QB to play better if we're going to have the kind of 10+ win season we're looking for. Grade: D

RB: Without doing a detailed replay study of the game film, it's hard to know exactly how much of the problem with the running game was Bishop Sankey and how much was the OL. From viewing it on TV, it didn't look like Sankey had a lot of room to run, but he also appeared to make some errors in reading the holes at times - I didn't think his field vision was as good as it's been in prior games. I think he did reasonably well with what was there, but it wasn't his best game. Grade: C+

WR/TE: Hard to put too much blame on this group - Kasen Williams made some plays, Austin Seferian-Jenkins made some plays, DiAndre Campbell had maybe his best game of the year, Cody Bruns had a couple nice plays, Jaydon Mickens should have had a TD but Price overthrew him. They probably could have helped Price a bit more by getting open more often, but all in all I thought they did reasonably well. Grade: B-

OL: And here we get to probably the biggest issue yesterday - we know this group has had issues protecting Price all year, but they've been able to mitigate that most of the 2nd half of the season by opening holes in the run game; not so yesterday. They allowed a mediocre (at best) run defense to control the line of scrimmage and force Sark away from leaning on the run game to wear down the Cougars. And it was only because Price was able to scramble and throw the ball away so often that they only surrendered 3 sacks. They were key factors in the 2 critical Husky turnovers, allowing the Coug DT to shoot a gap nearly untouched and hit Price before he could hand off the ball, causing our fumble, and allowing the Coug DE to rush almost untouched and force Price to throw the ball up for grabs in OT. Grade: F

DL: On the surface it might look like the DL played pretty well - the Coug RB's had a meager 1.9 ypc and they notched 3 of the 4 Husky sacks. Look deeper though - they didn't control the line of scrimmage on the 3 short TD runs (part of the reason the ypc was low was they didn't have far to go on those plays), and the Cougs threw the ball 53 times - the number of sacks looks a little less impressive in that light, especially given how bad the WSU OL has been in that regard this year. Recall the play late in the game where Tuel should have been sacked for a big loss, but instead the DL couldn't wrap him up and track him down and he converts a big pass to keep their drive going. When you play the Air Raid, you need great pressure from your front, and there wasn't enough of it from our guys. Grade: C-

LB: Oh what would have been if John Timu had not let a sure pick-6 slip literally right through his fingers in the 4th quarter. That was just one of many "what-if?" plays for the Huskies yesterday. In all, this group played alright, but they were ineffective in most of their blitzes and couldn't make the needed stops in the red zone. Grade: C

Secondary: This was strength on sort-of strength (the Coug passing game isn't as good as you might think from traditional stats), but the Huskies didn't bring their 'A' game in this one. Too many interference and holding calls, too many crossing routes open underneath to allow the Cougs to extend drives, the big busted coverage by Marcus Peters that allowed Dominique Williams to make a big play in the 2nd quarter and give the Cougs confidence and led to a TD that put the Cougs up 10-7. Grade: C-

Special Teams: When you have an opportunity to win the game on the last play of the game with a straight-on 35-yard field goal, you simply have to make it. Whether you blame a low snap that gave holder Cody Bruns some trouble, or you blame Travis Coons for slicing it too much, it was a huge, huge miss in an opportunity for the Huskies to escape with a mistake-filled, ugly win instead of a heart-breaking, excruciating loss. Grade: F

Coaching: I've been mentioning it for a weeks now about penalties. Some of you thought I was making too much of it, but the lack of discipline by this team was a huge reason why they lost despite generating 4 turnovers from WSU. Most of the calls were correct too - the only one I really questioned was the false start on Keith Price on the last drive of regulation. The Huskies also got the benefit of not getting called on another critical play, so I don't think you can really pin the school-record tying 18 penalties on the guys in the stripes. No, it comes back to coaching - these Huskies have simply lacked discipline in this regard, with yesterday being the nadir. So often they shot themselves in the foot with untimely, big-yardage penalties that either killed their offensive momentum or took away a good play on defense.

As well, once again we saw this team play poorly in the 1st half of a road game - they just didn't look like they were playing with the same intensity as the Cougars, and they did what they couldn't do yesterday - they allowed the Cougs to stay in the game and gain confidence. That too has to fall largely on the coaches.

From a scheme perspective and play-calling, I think they did reasonably well with one glaring exception - Sark needs to learn his own tendencies and realize that every coach out there knows that if Sark is going to try a trick play, he's going to do it on the first play of the game. A WR reverse to get the ball in the hands of Bruns to throw the ball downfield was the right idea, but he needed to save that for later in the game when the Cougs wouldn't be looking for it. Grade: D-

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