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Film Study: Colorado Buffaloes vs. Washington State Cougars

Let's dig into the film and dissect the Cougs.

NCAA Football: California at Washington State James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Washington State has had a magical conference run. After losing to Boise State on November 10th, the Cougars have ripped off eight straight wins, looking impressive while doing it. The latest effort was a dismantling of the University of Arizona, 69-7. Nice. While both Colorado and Washington State’s schedules lack the luster of some other highly-ranked teams, they have both beaten eight of the ten teams in front of them, and the Stanford win is looking better and better for both schools. Washington State demolished Stanford 42-16 (without their top two corners and McCaffrey for part of the game), while the Buffs held them to three offensive points and escaped 10-5. Well, here’s where we find the two teams. Top-25, each facing a tough test and a hard game to win. It is so fun to be a Buff fan right now.

But enough about the prelude. I looked at the last real conference game for WSU, a 35-31 victory in Corvallis against Oregon State that required a titanic effort in the second half. Here are some the plays worth looking at in that game. Before we start, I would recommend reading this interview with CougCenter’s Jeff Nusser. It really helps frame the plays and show the tendencies of the Cougs, because Jeff is awesome at his job.

Let’s start with the first one here. Already down 21-0 (we’ll get to some of those in a bit), WSU has started to put a drive together. Then I saw this play. This is something that WSU hasn’t been able to do consistently in a while that might be the biggest difference this season.

That’s some good, old-fashioned, downhill running. WSU uses the deep wide receiver splits and the unbalanced formation (Cracraft and Marks on the bottom of the screen as decoys) to draw the defense away from the short side. James Williams, their most talented RB, takes the handoff and immediately starts turning upfield. Their offensive line, a strength of the offense, seals off the edge and lets him go. Jamal Morrow, the other RB in the backfield, lays a great block on the outside to help him pick up extra yards. Williams fights for the first. It’s these types of chunk running plays that has helped this offense stay consistently efficient. CU’s edge defenders will have to bend the edge back to stop these plays.

Let’s look at a great defensive play. This must be what Jeff was talking about when he mentioned the aggressiveness of the WSU defense.

Sometimes they get burned, but oftentimes they’ll get plays like this. The cornerback keeps his eyes up, trusts his safety help, reads the play, and attacks. Picture perfect coverage. If one cornerback didn’t get him, the other would have. I’m sure CU coaches have seen this tape and found ways to play into their aggressiveness. Maybe fake the swing pass and go long. More than likely, CU will attack the middle of the field heavily.

This next play is an example of when WSU’s aggressiveness can hurt them. Alex Grinch sends five after the quarterback after predicting some longer routes on the outside on 2nd and 10. Which would have worked, if the linebacker tasked with covering the running back took a bad angle and got out to the flat too late.

No help anywhere else on the field meant that the RB could catch the ball moving forward and run to the end zone. Good thing Phillip Lindsay is one of the best in the country at taking swing passes and making something happen. Washington State actually got some pretty good penetration up front and hurried the throw, but Oregon State’s quarterback put the ball where the running back could run forward after catching and keep his momentum. Sefo will have to be accurate in his outlet passes, because they will be there on Saturday. Another thing to look at in that play is how open the middle of the field is. If one of the OSU players on the top of the screen moved to vacate that gap, that’s an easy first down. Here’s another play where WSU’s aggressiveness gave up a touchdown.

OSU gets the defense going one way, and the crowded WSU line of scrimmage bites on the run. The pitch back to the quarterback (lined up at WR) had the Cougars thinking reverse, and you can watch a few defenders flip their hips when he gets the ball. The secondary scrambles to find people to cover, and the great play design by the Beavers provides the WSU defenders with one receiver immediately available at the top of the screen. The secondary gravitates towards him, which leaves Seth Collins wide open after his late release. Great design, using the team speed and aggressiveness against WSU.

This is last play to watch, and it’s kind of a boring one. But it shows just how the Cougars stay ahead of the sticks and some of the fancy things they can do with routes. 3rd and 6:

Luke Falk had three of his four receivers open for a first down. The boundary receiver on the bottom of the screen has a free release and runs deep. This draws the safety and the nickel back away from the play. Gabe Marks (WSU’s best receiver) moves in motion and releases late, drawing the attention of his man and shifting the defense towards that side of the field. Oregon State is in a matchup zone, so they stay pretty stacked on the side of the field that Marks vacates. This tells Falk and the receivers zone, and they take advantage. Both inside receivers run inside crossing routes and sit in the empty part of the field. Falk just has to pick which one to throw to. Easy money. If this was man, the crossing routes could have continued to the sidelines, allowing for some catch and run. And if Falk didn’t like any of the options past the line of scrimmage, the running back leaks out of the backfield and has at least 10 yards of open field. The Buffs will have to disguise coverages and pressure Falk to beat him