Football Friday on a Thursday, Week Eight of 2013


Football Friday on a Thursday, Week Eight of 2013

A visual description of the Cougs 4th quarter last week.

After a completely deflating loss in our conference home opener the Cougs now hit the road to take on the #2 Ducks. I don’t know about you, but I am having a hard time getting excited for this game. The loss to the Beavs had me reviving what has become a Fall ritual the last few years… looking for signs of hope on the Cougar basketball team in October. Of course, there aren’t many with one player dismissed and another suspended before practices even began. So its back to football and the team that in one unbelievable quarter of ineptitude managed to shatter every good feeling I had about this season and then light them all on fire. Now we find ourselves back to “moral victory” hunting in a matchup with a Duck team that made winning at Washington look way easier than it is. If adversity is the true test of any team, then break out the number 2 pencils and blue books. While optimism is in short supply, curiosity certainly isn’t and I am pretty interested in how this team responds. For our fragile bowl hopes this sure looks like a “just stay healthy” kind of week, but that’s not the attitude Mike Leach and his staff demand of their team. Vegas (and just about everyone else) says its a laugher in Eugene this weekend. What do the blogfathers say?


Longball’s Locks:

Im keeping this one short and sweet since there just isnt much mystery as to the outcome in Eugene on Saturday. If we can keep the game mathematically in reach in the 3rd quarter, I will consider that a good sign that there is enough fight left in these kids to shake off the OSU game and find 2 more wins for a holiday in beautiful Albuquerque. Oregon is between monster matchups, winning at UW last week and with UCLA visiting next week. So there is always the chance they aren’t going to be firing on all cylinders. Lets just hope the team isn’t counting on that. I like our chances to keep this thing interesting longer than people expect with some major improvements between the ears; execution, execution, execution. Still by the end of the day, its not quite enough to threaten an upsert.

Ducks 51, Cougs 24

Colorado takes on a school I am not entirely sure I’ve heard of. I think Paul Richardson should be able to find some running room in Charleston Southern’s secondary.

Buffs 100, Charleston 7

In a whale of a matchup UCLA begins one of the toughest 2 week gauntlets in the country by traveling to Stanford, one week before traveling to Oregon. Did Stanford get exposed a bit at Utah? This year’s Card don’t have nearly the running game we’ve been used to seeing from them and those famous tight ends are almost non-existent. This makes them much more dependent on Hogan hitting deep throws out of play action as he did so well against us. Since then? He hasn’t been nearly as sharp. It is hard to imagine Stanford losing 2 straight (nearly 3 straight) but thats just what I am going to predict here. UCLA raises some eyebrows in Eugene.

Bruins 33, Card 30

Another terrific matchup has the Dawgs on the road to Tempe where Todd Grahams team has shown all kinds of cracks in their armor. I really think despite the home field advantage this is a Sun Devil team that is just not as good as the Huskies.

Huskies 35, Devils 21

Lane Kiffen is auditioning for a job at ESPN while his former charges are trying to reclaim the programs battered pride. The Ed Orgeron era at SC got off to a victorious start last week against Arizona, but now a much tougher test awaits in South Bend. I expect the momentum to carry over at least another week and the Trojans get back on track to possibly challenge for the South division title.

USC 28, Irish 17

Utah has proven to be a team that can beat just about anyone if they don’t beat themselves. Travis Wilson has some scary ability, but he can also pull a total Halladay on occasion and take his team out of games they otherwise are dominating. It seems like Utah never plays road games, but this week they will have to pack their things and travel to Tucson. If they can handle leaving the comfy confines of Rice-Eccles, and if Travis Wilson can keep the ball out of the Wildcats hands, the Utes can control the game and come away with a big win.

Utes 38, Cats 28

Last week Oregon State was locked up in a good ol fashioned shoot out for the better part of 3 quarters before the Cougs forgot how to score points. If the Cal offense can avoid the same type of let down, they have more than enough weapons to keep up with the Beavs, and they’ll have to because their depleted defense isn’t stopping anybody. It gets wild in Berkley.

Beavs 55, Bears 44

Enjoy the games folks, and Go Cougs!


SeanHawk Sez:


How we doin' Cougs?  Like many of you I was pretty down after last week.  So much was going right – at least offensively – for 3 quarters, but as everyone knows the 4th quarter was an epic collapse, ala the guy trying to 1) drink his soda, 2) work the remote, and 3) eat a chip, all at the same time.  Life is hard sometimes, right?

I thought a lot about Connor Halliday this week, and what might be ahead for the WSU QB.  But the biggest thing I took from Saturday was that his performance was pretty much a microcosm of his WSU career?  Lots of good and flashes of briliance at certain times, and then other times a complete unraveling as he gets away from what it seems like he is supposed to be doing and dons the Superman cape.  But as we all know, donning a cape isn't always the best of ideas…..


But whatever.  I do think that the majority will hoist this OSU loss on the shoulders of #12.  And it's what he did last in that game that will resonate more than what he did that was actually good, and that's just the way it is.  But let's be perfectly clear – it wasn't like the defense was pitching a shutout.  Yes, the offense turned the ball over late in the game that led to a flurry of Beaver TD's with a short field.  But did you know the D gave up 598 yards, including over 7 yards per play??  The lack of a pass rush was awful, and was definitely my biggest concern going in to that game.  I didn't think we would win because of that very reason, and I thought we would see Sean Mannion with way too much time to do his thing (and no, that's not an "I TOLD YOU SO!" moment, not in the least).  It's just that I don't believe in the consistency in the pass rush, especially out of the front 3 or 4.  


The thing I worry about with Halliday is how much improvement are we ever going to see?  In doing the math earlier in the year, I heard Cougcenter's Jeff Nusser bring up a really good point on Halliday and passing attempts.  Coming in to the 2013 season, Halliday had essentially attempted about 1/2 of passing attempts that a typical Air Raid QB might throw in a season, and even less then that in the true Mike Leach Air Raid offense (Halliday had roughly 100 attempts prior to Leach's arrival).  But in doing the math going forward, it looked like by the time we reached the Oregon State game, that Halliday would rack up the attempts in a hypothetical full season in this system.


And you know what?  Halliday is now at 630 attempts under Mike Leach.  In trying to find a comp for Halliday, I went back and looked at the last full-time starter for Mike Leach, and that's Graham Harrell.  But I didn't just pick Harrell's best year in trying to take a look, and instead I wanted to see what Harrell looked like in his first real go-around in this system.  And what I found was that a typical Air Raid season by Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, the 630 attempts is right about the average that a normal QB would throw in this offense and close to what Harrell threw in his first full year as a starter.  So we can basically say Halliday has had one full season of reps as a QB in this system (that's counting last year's back-and-forth QB situation with Jeff Tuel last year of course, and last year was tough in every way with a patchwork offensive line with a running game that averaged 1.4 yards per carry and the best WR not exactly "all in" to Leach and company in 2012?  But they are still passing attempts, so let's call it a full season).


The good in those 630 Halliday attempts:  4119 yards, 29 TD's.  

The bad in those 630 attempts:  26 INT's, 57.8% completion percentage.


The 26 INT's is a LOT of mistakes, no question.  And even with Halliday's high number of passing attempts, that's still a little over 4% of passing-attempts-to-INT ratio (4.1).  The problem though is that the 26 INT's are considerably more than Harrell had in his first go at it in Leach's offense (for a point of reference, Harrell had 4555 yards, 38 TD's, and 11 INT's while completing 66.9% of his throws as a sophomore, his first full year as a starter).  That's 15 MORE INT's in almost the same amount of passing attempts.  


The completion percentage is another issue.  It's better this year, for sure, at just about 63%.  That's up from the lower 50's from last year.  


But that said, I can't really see Leach going another direction with the QB at this point, can you?  Unless it gets so out of hand that he just has no clue out there, and/or suffers a worse injury than he already has at the moment, I believe these coaches see enough out of Halliday to keep going with the status quo.  So I guess we can bitch and moan and complain that we know more about the QB's and the Air Raid than the guys who are getting paid to do this?  Or we can just accept it for what it is and hope it all turns around.  Either way it's going to be a wild ride the rest of 2013!


Back to the defense, I really do love our defensive line as they are stout against the run.  Gauta in the middle with Pole on one side and Xavier Cooper on the other is a tough front 3 in the D, and is in my mind anyway the best defensive front we've had since 2006?  There is a size and toughness factor to those guys that we just haven't seen in a while around the Palouse.  But the downside is that while they are stout at the point of attack, there is a speed/quickness element that is missing up front and is an issue in getting pressure against passing situations vs. Pac-12 foes.  I like the size of Destiny Vaeao, but there isn't a whole lot there in the pass rush department from that slot  And while we have seen some decent athleticism and upside to Kache Palacio at the BUCK in the 3-4, it still just isn't quite enough to make a Pac-12 caliber offensive line and experienced passing QB's uncomfortable.  And yes, I'm with those who lament the loss of Logan Mayes from the pass rushing spot.  While he decided to leave after it was made perfectly clear he wouldn't be an everydown player at WSU, it would have been nice to see him coming off the edge on 3rd downs if he would have accepted the fact that he wouldn't play every down?


For it was Mayes who stepped in late last year when Travis Long was lost to injury, and it was Mayes who got heat on Keith Price in that overtime INT that stopped UW cold.  But we saw it clearly vs. Stanford when Kevin Hogan was making ham sandwiches for the whole Stanford offense, and Sean Mannion barely broke a sweat for the vast majority of that game.  The pass rush just isn't there, and unless some drastic changes are made in either 1) blitz calls from the defensive staff, or 2) a talent emerges as a real consistent threat off the edge, I'm afraid that we are going to see a lot more of the same as the season grinds forward.


On to this week's picks:


Ducks 59, Cougs 27 – Not much to really say here.  Oregon's O will unleash hell on the ground and with Mariota's fantastic arm as the vertical passing game takes another step forward with Mark Helfrich's evolving, entertaining product.  I do think the Cougs play hard though and will do their best, but it won't be remotely close.


CU 63, Charleston 3 – Who cares.


UCLA 28, Stanford 23 – I think Stanford bounces back from the Utah upset but UCLA is a better team right now.  And perhaps the word is out on Kevin Hogan?  Quick story – I heard someone on ESPN Gameday's radio broadcast last weekend talking about some things a scout had concerns about with Kevin Hogan.  They pointed out that he has a bit of a hitch in his throwing motion, and that the intermediate passing attempts are not his strength.  While he can hit the deep ball, the routine throws in coverage can be an adventure.  Sure enough that's EXACTLY what we saw with Hogan in Salt Lake Saturday night!  We'll see how he adjusts but there might be a book on Hogan now?  He killed WSU deep, and burned UW once in their win over the Huskies, but otherwise the league might be catching on to Stanford's QB.


UW 42, ASU 30 – The Devils are tough at home, but the Huskies are better and right the ship with a solid Pac-12 road win, while ASU keeps trying to figure out where the hyped-up D has gone wrong this year.


Notre Dame 24, USC 20 – SC comes back to earth a bit as the Irish win a tough one.


Utah 27, AZ 24 – Utes aren't that good, and they are leaving the home state for the first time in 2013.  But AZ's issues at QB will continue to be a problem.  


Oregon State 57, Cal 23 –  Beavs continue to roll and Cal will get even less pressure on Mannion than WSU last week!


All for now.  GO COUGS!



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